Dark Knight's Heath Ledger wins posthumous Oscar; family accepts award

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

In a touching posthumous tribute, the Academy Award for best supporting actor went to the late Heath Ledger Sunday for his transcendent and creepy role as the Joker in The Dark Knight, one of the few awards that went to a sci-fi or fantasy film.

Ledger's mother, father and sister accepted the award on Ledger's behalf after traveling to Los Angeles from Australia earlier in the week.

The award for Ledger, who died last year of an accidental prescription drug overdose, brought the crowd to its feet. He became only the second actor after Peter Finch to win after death.

Backstage after receiving the Oscar, Ledger's sister, Kate Ledger, told reporters that he may have known the role would garner Academy Award recognition. "When he came home for Christmas a year ago, he had been sending me shots and bits and pieces from the film," she said. "And he hadn't seen it, I hadn't seen it. No one had really seen it, but he knew. And I said to him, 'I have a feeling this is it for you. You're going to get a nomination for this. You know, for the Academy.' And he just looked at me and smiled. So he knew."

While accepting the award on stage at the Kodak Theater, Ledger's father, Kim Ledger, spoke first for the family in ceremonies broadcast on ABC. "I have to say this is ever so humbling," Kim Ledger said. "Just being amongst such wonderful people, such a wonderful industry. Firstly, I'd like to thank the Academy for recognizing our son's amazing work, Warner Brothers and [Dark Knight director] Christopher Nolan in particular, for allowing Heath the creative license to develop and explore this crazy Joker character. To Steve Alexander, Heath's mentor, special friend and agent for 10 years, we love you, Steve. This award tonight would've humbly validated Heath's quiet determination to be truly accepted by you all here, his peers, within an industry he so loved. Thank you."

Heath's mother, Sally Bell, then added: "Heath was such a compassionate and generous soul who added so much excitement and inspiration to our lives. We have been truly overwhelmed by the honor and respect being bestowed upon him with this award. Tonight we are choosing to celebrate and be happy for what he has achieved."

Kate Ledger, ended the acceptance speeches. "Heath, we both knew what you had created in the Joker was extraordinarily special and had even talked about being here on this very day," she said. "We really wish you were, but we proudly accept this award on behalf of your beautiful Matilda. Thank you."

Backstage, Kim Ledger said the award will wind up with Ledger's daughter with Michelle Williams, Matilda. "I mean, we intend, obviously, to keep it for Matilda," he said. "Whichever is the best way to keep it; with the Oscar you're all aware what they do in this special circumstance for somebody when somebody passes away, then the next of kin, in this case Matilda, will be the recipient, really. But she can't sign for it until she's 18, so it stays in trust here or in Australia. We'll work that out, but possibly in trust here until Matilda turns 18."

The Dark Knight also won the Oscar for best sound mixing, its only other award of the evening; it was nominated for eight awards total.

Below: Sally Bell (from left), Kim Ledger and Kate Ledger backstage at the Oscars after accepting the award for the late Heath Ledger. (A.M.P.A.S.)