Joaquin Phoenix Pays Tribute to His ‘Favorite Actor’ and Fellow Joker Heath Ledger at SAG Awards 2020

Joaquin Phoenix kept Heath Ledger’s memory alive at the 2020 Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday, January 19, by paying tribute to the late movie star during his acceptance speech.

“I’m standing here on the shoulders of my favorite actor, Heath Ledger,” the Joker star, 45, said on stage after receiving the trophy for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role.

Ledger, who died in January 2008, famously portrayed the Joker in The Dark Knight. Jared Leto subsequently played the troubled DC Comics villain in Suicide Squad before Phoenix took on the role.

Joaquin Phoenix Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor Joker Tribute Heath Ledger SAG Awards 2020
Joaquin Phoenix accepts the award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role for ‘Joker’ at the 26th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Shrine Auditorium & Expo Hall in Los Angeles on January 19, 2020. Michael Buckner/Variety/Shutterstock

The Walk the Line star used his speech on Sunday as an opportunity to praise his fellow best actor nominees: Christian Bale, Leonardo DiCaprio, Adam Driver and Taron Egerton.

He joked that he wishes the Ford v Ferrari star, 45, “would, just one time, just suck once,” and called the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood star, also 45, “an inspiration to me for over 25 years.” He then complimented the Marriage Story star, 36, on his “beautiful, nuanced, incredible, profound” performance, and said he “can’t wait to see what else” the Rocketman star, 30, does in his career.

Heath Ledger 2006
Heath Ledger Globe Photos/Mediapunch/Shutterstock

For his title role in Joker, Phoenix has also won a Critics’ Choice Award and a Golden Globe Award, and he is nominated for Actor in a Leading Role at the upcoming Oscars.

Ledger received critical acclaim for his take on the Joker in 2008, and posthumously won the Oscar for Actor in a Supporting Role. However, the part took a toll on his health, and he ultimately died at age 28 from an accidental overdose of prescription medications including painkillers, anti-anxiety drugs and sleeping pills.

Heath Ledger Joker The Dark Knight
Heath Ledger as the Joker in ‘The Dark Knight.’ Warner Bros/Dc Comics/Kobal/Shutterstock

The Brokeback Mountain star left behind a daughter, Matilda, now 14, whom he shared with his ex Michelle Williams. After Ledger’s death, the Fosse/Verdon star, 39, went on to marry musician Phil Elverum in 2018, but they separated months later. She is now engaged to theater director Thomas Kail, with whom she is expecting her second child.

“I never gave up on love,” Williams, who attended the SAG Awards on Sunday, told Vanity Fair in 2018. “I always say to Matilda, ‘Your dad loved me before anybody thought I was talented, or pretty, or had nice clothes.’”

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