My apologies to you all for this not being here last night. I was on my way back home, considering what to write in the column, when a co-worker stopped me in the elevator.

"Have you heard about Heath Ledger?"

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Sure, he's starring in The Dark Knight as the Joker. And it's going to be creepy and awesome. Hey, I've bet you haven't seen the teaser trailer yet, have you? I thought to myself. But before I could answer, he continued.

"They just found him dead in his apartment in New York City."

I was stunned and speechless. This has to be a joke - maybe it's a marketing stunt gone terribly out of control. There's no way that Heath Ledger is dead. I called my wife, and the first words out of her mouth confirmed the news for me.

My wife and I have followed his career ever since he was on Fox's Roar. We loved him in 10 Things I Hate About You. We adored the anachronisms of A Knight's Tale. We cried alongside the pain of his family in The Patriot. We laughed at his misadventures in The Brothers Grimm. And we were in breathless anticipation of this summer and seeing his amazingly creepy take as the Joker in The Dark Knight.

Mr. Ledger will be missed. By his friends and family most, of course, but also by the countless millions who saw his movies and thought he was a very talented young actor. I wouldn't dream to say that our grief can possibly match that of those who knew him personally, and especially not compared to his daughter, Matilda, who will likely only remember her father by watching his films, but I do know that we will grieve.

Over the days and weeks to come, more information will be released about what exactly happened. And we here at MovieWeb and SuperheroFlix will keep you updated as that information is released. But for now, I can't help but think of other actors tied to superheroes that we also lost much too soon.

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The first one that comes to mind is Brandon Lee, son of the great Bruce Lee, who died during the filming of The Crow. Ironically, Bruce Lee also died young, and he had his own connection to superheroes - playing Kato, the sidekick to the Green Hornet on the aptly titled The Green Hornet. Lee died due to a tragic gun malfunction on-set, and his early death led some to wonder if the family was cursed. What I find most ironic is the fact that Ledger's Joker has often been compared, at least visually, to Lee's Eric Draven. Lee was also only 28 years old at the time of his death.

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And of course, it would be horridly remiss of me not to mention Christopher Reeve. For many of us, no matter how fine the performances of Brandon Routh, Tom Welling or Dean Cain may have been, no one else will ever be Superman the way that Reeve was. The tagline of Superman: The Movie was "You will believe a man can fly." And we did. Reeve, of course, was paralyzed from the neck down following a horse-riding accident in 1995. This did not prevent him from continuing his acting career, even appearing on Smallville as Dr. Swan, nor did it prevent him from becoming one of the most active advocates of paralysis research and therapy. Sadly, before a cure or reversal for his paralysis could be found, Reeve passed away in October, 2004. While it was true that Reeve, unlike Lee or Ledger, was not a young man, he was hardly past his prime, and had it not been for the accident, he likely would have had many more films in him.

Now, I don't want to suggest that superhero films are inherently cursed, or anything ridiculous like that. Many actors have thrived since they have appeared in superhero movies. Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellan, James Marsden, Famke Jamsen, Patrick Stewart, Toby Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Christian Bale, Liam Neeson, Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey and many, many others have certainly not suffered as a result of their relationship with the heroes and villains of modern comics.

But I will always wonder what future performances we have been denied from seeing due to the untimely deaths of Heath Ledger, Brandon Lee and Chris Reeve.

Come back in two weeks for another look at what's happening in superhero film and television that goes beyond the surface. Until then, "Excelsior!"

There are plenty of other actors who were lost to us far too early, including some tied in to superhero movies. Which ones left the deepest impression on you? Leave your thoughts on our forums! And if you have a topic you'd like to see explored here, leave an idea on the forum, or e-mail me at [email protected].

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