Word is that Heath Ledger‘s family will travel from Australia to attend the world  premiere of "The Dark Knight," the late actor’s final completed film, in New York in late June. (Update: buzz is the NY premiere will be on July 15) The film has been dedicated to Ledger by the director, Christopher Nolan, and will have a memoriam to the actor at the end.

In this latest installment of "Batman," Ledger plays the Joker with a terrifyingly psychotic performance that, to me, surpasses Jack Nicholsen’s in large part because Jack was basically doing Jack wearing clown makeup (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

But Heath’s creepy performance (with garish melted makeup like that of "The Crow," played by Brandon Lee, who also died needlessly young) seems to have summoned up demons no one could have imagined accessible to him, particularly after his seeemingly effortless Oscar-nominated role as Ennis del Mar, the emotionally repressed, painfully shy and inarticulate cowboy in "Brokeback Mountain." There’s already rumors floating around Hollywood that his "Dark Knight" role will earn Ledger some posthumous supporting actor nods at the 2009 Oscar, Golden Globes and  Screen Actors Guild awards.

Heath_ledger_2 "Batman" star Christian Bale called Ledger’s performance "incredibly intense" in Details magazine. "Certainly there was this great anarchistic streak to it — just getting dirtier than anybody’s envisioned the Joker before."

Director Christopher Nolan told Britain’s Empire Magazine: "Our Joker — Heath’s interpretation of the Joker — has always been the absolute extreme of anarchy and chaos. What makes him terrifying is not to humanize him in narrative terms. We didn’t want to show what made him do the things he’s doing, because then he becomes less threatening. I like to say he cuts through the movie like (the shark in) ‘Jaws.’ He just kind of comes and goes and causes complete mayhem."

It’s a role sure to haunt Ledger’s fans. And it can’t help but make audiences wonder if this demonic character also possessed Ledger after filming ended.  After Ledger’s death, sources close to the late actor claimed the manic role pushed Ledger into a sleepless depression, causing him to take pills to rest.

Toxicology results released in February showed that reported the 28-year-old actor’s death was caused by an accidental overdose of prescription medications, many often used to treat insomnia, with which he had long suffered.

Ledger even told MTV: "It was an exhausting process. At the end of the day I couldn’t move. I couldn’t talk. I was absolutely wrecked. (But) It’s the most fun I’ve had with a character and probably will ever have.”

Whatever the cause, his death is a terrible loss. His Joker proves that Heath Ledger would have had a long, diverse film career, much like that of Johnny Depp, another actor who could plumb emotional depths as "Peter Pan" author J.M. Barrie in "Finding Neverland," go comic as Captain Jack Sparrow in the "Pirates of the Carribean" franchise and yet be hauntingly disturbing as a vengeful murderer in "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street."

Reporting: Sal Morgan

Photos: Heath Ledger at the Venice Film Festival premiere of "I’m Not There" on Sept. 4, 2007.

Posted by:Elizabeth Snead