Heath Ledger Not Another River Phoenix, Says Director

12/15/2008 at 10:15 AM EST

Heath Ledger Not Another River Phoenix, Says Director
Heath Ledger (left) and River Phoenix
John Stanton/Getty, RALPH DOMINGUEZ/GLOBE
Don't glorify Heath Ledger as another iconic Hollywood burnout, says the director of his last movie.

Terry Gilliam – who worked with Ledger just days before the January tragedy – says, "When he died, there were all these nonsensical stories coming out about Heath Ledger, James Dean and River Phoenix, all destroyed by the system."

But, in a tribute published in Britain's Observer Magazine, Gilliam insists the actor's demise was simply "an absurd accident." (His death was ruled an accidental overdose of prescription drugs.)

The two men worked together on The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus – which turned out to be Ledger's last role.

When Ledger died, Gilliam wrote, it was as though "half the world collapsed." He found it impossible to replace him with any one actor, so he brought in "the Holy Trinity" to continue filming: Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law.

"They came in and they pulled it off, and I think it works brilliantly," said Gilliam.

Still, Ledger's untimely death has left a permanent void.

"You actually think at certain times angels come down to earth and Heath might have been one of them," Gilliam wrote. "And then he's gone and you think: This is all wrong. ... He should be leading us all into a wonderful world of adventure."

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