Heath Ledger nominated for an Oscar

'Dark Knight' actor is seventh posthumous nominee

Exactly one year to the day since his death from an accidental drug overdose, Heath Ledger was remembered Thursday with an Oscar nomination as best supporting actor for his performance as the deranged Joker in "The Dark Knight."

Ledger, who died at age 28, became the seventh actor to earn a posthumous nomination in the history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. If he wins, he will enter even more select company: Only Peter Finch, nominated for 1976's "Network," has ever been awarded an acting Oscar after his death.

While the other actors who died before their work was nominated range from Jeanne Eagels (best actress for 1929's "The Letter") to Spencer Tracy (best actor for 1967's "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner") to Ralph Richardson (supporting actor for 1984's "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan") to Massimo Troisi (best actor for 1994's "Il Postino"), Ledger's career most closely resembles that of James Dean, another charismatic young actor whose unexpected death shocked his fans.

Dean, in fact, became a posthumous nominee not once but twice. Following his death in a car crash on Sept. 30, 1955, he was nominated in the best actor category in two subsequent years -- first for 1955's "East of Eden" and then for "Giant."

Three years ago, Ledger himself was nominated as best actor for his work as a lovelorn cowboy in "Brokeback Mountain," but it was Philip Seymour Hoffman who took home the prize for "Capote."

On the face of it, appearing in a big-budget superhero movie wouldn't be considered a sure road to Oscar glory. Even a pro like Jack Nicholson failed to win the Academy's favor when he donned the Joker's garish grin for 1989's "Batman" -- although he was nominated for BAFTA and Golden Globe Awards.

But this year -- even though he'll once again be competing against Hoffman, nominated for "Doubt" -- Ledger looks to be the prohibitive favorite: He's already won a Globe and has been hailed by critics groups including the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn.

"I'm a huge Batman fan and the Joker's one of the greatest comic book characters ever invented. Heath just took it to another level and added a real depth and pathos that a lot of people probably wouldn't have ever been able to imagine," said fellow nominee Michael Shannon of "Revolutionary Road." "Obviously, it's very sad that he won't be here to enjoy it. But if I'm there and Heath Ledger's name gets called, I'm not going to storm out of the building. It's obviously very well deserved."

Who will accept the statuette if Ledger wins? While the Academy doesn't generally permit substitutes, when Finch won, his widow Eletha was invited to the stage to accept on his behalf.

"We are going to be very respectful of Heath and his memory," Academy president Sid Ganis said Thursday. "We are not going to talk about it now. We'll work that out privately."

Jay A. Fernandez and Borys Kit contributed to this report