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Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 23, 2008; 12:00 PM

In today's column: The Romney boys prank their dad. Bono steps out sans shades. Gilbert Arenas loves one of his kids more than the other.

Reliable Source columnists Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts were at the ready and online Wednesday, Jan. 23, at Noon ET to discuss all of the above and much more.

In recent columns: Chris Hitchens stops smoking, and Jenna Bush sets a wedding date. Cafe Milano at the center of an international incident. Obama's sisters hit the campaign trail. And Matthew McConaughey just kept saying hee-larious stuff. But you want to talk about Heath Ledger, right? Be our guest.

A transcript follows.

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Reliable Source Columns

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In shock: Ladies, I'm surprised that you didn't change the focus of today's column to reflect the passing of Heath Ledger. Do you think it was suicide or a heart attack like early suspicions point to?

Amy Argetsinger: Lots of Heath Ledger questions today, as we expected, and we are happy to entertain them as well as ones on other topics.

Well, there were two large stories about Heath Ledger on the front of the Style section, which is the proper place for news like these, as opposed to a brief gossip column like ours. If you haven't seen those stories, we'll be putting up links soon. Unfortunately, the column must go on doing its own thing....

The early indications are a possible accidental overdose, but I'm sure we'll hear more soon.

Also: Hank Stuever will be online at 2 p.m. to talk about Ledger.

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washingtonpost.com: A Star's Bright, Brief Life ( Post, Jan. 23) and A Rough-Edged Actor Who Carved An Indelible Image ( Post, Jan. 23)

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Hating on Chelsea: So, you had another negative piece about Chelsea Clinton. I am seriously wondering about your journalistic objectivity when it comes to this former first kid. Is this just one of you, or do both of you hold her in such disregard?

Roxanne Roberts: Whoa---relax. Our coverage of Chelsea has been rare, given her maturity and general lack of hijinks. But she HAS created a flap by steadfastly refusing to talk while campaigning for her mother---odd, given that's she's so articulate---and we've covered that news. It's nothing personal, but when your former college newspaper takes a swing at you, it's worth noting.

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Yes, I want to talk about Heath Ledger: How sad -- one report said he also had pneumonia. All those meds can be a disaster. He should have stayed with Michelle Williams....

Amy Argetsinger: Still unclear what happened. But the "suicide" reports that were coming out yesterday afternoon are now looking unfounded. And obviously, I don't know anything, but all the talk about pills -- and the interviews he had given lately talking about the difficulty he's had sleeping lately -- makes me think that we're now going to be having another serious talk about the crisis of insomnia (and Ambien abuse, kind of like when Patrick Kennedy had his weird midnight drive last year). Which is going to hit very close to home for a lot of people.

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Chris Hitchens: And we care that he quit smoking because...?

Roxanne Roberts: Because he makes Washington a more intersting place, and I'd like to see him live a long time. Plus, he's one of the LAST people I thought could go cold turkey.

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Gilbert Arenas: So, are you going to ask him which kid he loves more? That would be a scoop...

Roxanne Roberts: Not me---my son (an only child) wants to know which of my two cats I love best, and I always refuse to answer.

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The Dark Knight: When is this supposed to be in theaters? I'm guessing they can handle post-production issues, but how hard is it to promote a film when one of the major stars dies?

Amy Argetsinger: The release date is supposedly July 18; no idea if that's affected at all by his death.

This is an interesting question. In some macabre way, I suspect it makes it a little easier to promote a film, simply because it makes everyone that much more curious about the last performance.

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Matthew McConaughey as a parent: I hope the girlfriend has some brains, since the kid won't get any from him. Of course, if she had brains would she be with him?

Roxanne Roberts: Point well taken. Hope the kid is cute.

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Boston, Mass.: So does Heath Ledger turn into some kind of James Dean "young forever" Hollywood legend? How close is the comparison of the two actors? Did any Dean film come out after his death like Ledger's Joker role will this summer?

Amy Argetsinger:"Giant," which is an excellent movie, was the last of James Dean's three movies, and it was released in 1956, after his death. Dean also got a posthumous Oscar nomination for "East of Eden."

I guess there are some similarities, with the difference being that Ledger had a lot more movies under his belt and been that much more "out there" in public life than Dean had before his death. Ledger also had the blessing of being showered with accolades while he was still living.

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Bethesda, Md.: Are you surprised that CNN, MSNBC, etc., have spent so much time on Ledger's death. I mean he was nominated but never won an Oscar. What makes his death so sensational?

Amy Argetsinger: I've got a thought or two on this, which I will happily share, but I'd like to hear what anyone else thinks. Why does this news resonate with you? (assuming it does).

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Georgetown, D.C.: I recently went to Cafe Milano after having read about it in your column countless times. I have to tell you, I was very disappointed. Is the food there supposed to be good?

Amy Argetsinger: I don't think it's really the food that makes the place what it is. You are certainly not the only person to express that sentiment.

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Just plain sad about Heath, Md.: Such a brilliant actor. Re-reading the NYTimes interview from about a month ago, an accidental OD, while tragic, no longer seems out of the question. Learning to direct, starting his own production company, adoring his daughter, AND being exhausted while working. Is it okay to clip from the 11/4/07 article?

"He is here in London filming the latest episode of the "Batman" franchise, "The Dark Knight." (Mr. Bale, as it happens, plays Batman; Mr. Ledger plays the Joker.) It is a physically and mentally draining role -- his Joker is a "psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy" he said cheerfully -- and, as often happens when he throws himself into a part, he is not sleeping much.

"'Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night,' he said. 'I couldn't stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going.' One night he took an Ambien, which failed to work. He took a second one and fell into a stupor, only to wake up an hour later, his mind still racing."

...plus I really don't want to think that the Academy Awards announcement surprised or mattered to him.

(seriously deep sigh)

Amy Argetsinger: This is that interview I was referring to. What can I say -- I feel his pain. There is nothing worse than insomnia.

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Washington, D.C.: So, has Gilbert Arenas closed the chapter on Laura Govan and now moved onto Mya?

Roxanne Roberts: Who knows? Gilbert is a complicated guy, and so is there relationship. I'm waiting for his next blog entry---which Amy describes as the "NBA's finest blog" and Gilbert as possibly "Washington's finest blogger."

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Coffee-question: About to run out for a workday cup of coffee. Starbucks, Cosi, or Dunkin' Donuts?

Amy Argetsinger: Have a cup of tea. It's better for you.

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Kensington, Md.: Yes, in fact, we do want to talk about Heath Ledger. According to CNN, the initial autopsy results were inconclusive. Does this shoot down the rumors that he had pneumonia?

Amy Argetsinger: No, I think initial autopsies are more about really basic, obvious stuff, like blunt-force trauma or severe intoxication. They're just saying they don't quite know yet what killed him.

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Bono sans shades: How on earth did anyone recognize him? His naked face is such a rarity.

Amy Argetsinger: I think they had to be looking for him, honestly.

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James Dean: I knew James Dean, James Dean was a friend of mine. Keith Ledger is no James Dean.

Amy Argetsinger: All right, then...

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Heath Ledger: Lots of stories about his drinking (typical Aussie), but not other recreational drugs. Did I miss something?

Amy Argetsinger: Who knows. For all the celebrities whose drug problems are way out there in the open (see Winehouse, Amy), for most it remains something of a secret. Still, the talk at this particular hour is accidental sleeping-pill overdose, not that anyone really knows.

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What?: We should feel sad about an actor whining about being overworked and physically exhausted? Plenty of people work much harder for less money than he pulls in per movie? C'mon people he wasn't Mother Teresa here!

Amy Argetsinger: I'll get back to this in a sec...

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Washington, D.C.: Why does Heath Ledger's death resonate? Because there are certain actors/entertainers we expect to die young. He wasn't one of them. Simple as that.

Amy Argetsinger: Maybe a little more complicated, but I'll get back to this too.

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Chelsea: Leave her alone. I don't think she is obligated to speak up for her mother at all. Her presence alongside her mother is enough. I doubt anyone believes she is ambivalent about her mother's candidacy. I think the Bush daughters spoke too much and often without thinking first. Chelsea is setting a classy example of quiet support.

Roxanne Roberts: We covered this issue in detail last week, so I'll do a short recap: The question on the table is whether the now grown up Chelsea---currently on the campaign trail for her mother---should maintain her "no comment" stance. Some folks think she has no obligation to speak, others (I fall in this camp) think its weird to show up but never say a word of support, much less talk to the press. I'm sure Chelsea and her parents are cool with it, but it has attracted attention, not all of it favorable.

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Falls Church, Va.: I haven't been watching TV, but I was wondering last night if this would be covered like Anna Nicole's death was covered. Probably not, since there is no paternity scandal. But I am very sad. Maybe it is because he was so talented. Maybe because of Matilda. Maybe because it seems to be an accident. Maybe b/c I am 27 and this brings to light my own mortality. Between Heath, Brad Renfro and Sean Taylor, seems it's not a good time to be a young guy.

Amy Argetsinger: Good points. I don't think this will get the Anna Nicole treatment because, as you said, that was such a perfect storm of weird courtroom/family drama.

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Lexington Park: Do you think Ledger was a Brad Renfro copycat? And how do we know it wasn't murder? Pills are so easy to alter...

Amy Argetsinger: Okay, smart-alecks, get it out of your system...

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Speaking of a "former college newspaper": Did either of yours ever "take a swing" at either of you? Or give you an award?

Roxanne Roberts: No swings, no awards. As it should be.

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New York: What is it about those Brolins that makes them seem presidential? James played Dutch Reagan, and now his son will play George W. Bush?

Well, I guess Reagan was the father than Bush always wanted.

Amy Argetsinger: It's the jawline.

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Why does this news resonate with you? : I think it does with me because it was so out of the blue. You would expect -- or not be surprised to say it better -- if Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears were found dead given their hard partying ways. But with Heath Ledger you never heard too much about his private life other than the basics. For me, I just knew about his solid film performances and that I was looking forward to seeing him in the new Batman, from what I've heard he did an amazing job. Really sad.

Amy Argetsinger: True. When you think about all the Young Hollywood death-watches we have going.... he was nowhere on those lists.

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Smokin': Actually, I have a feeling it's easier to quit cold turkey if you were a really heavy smoker. What CH said about, I can't keep this up... makes sense.

I, on the other hand, only have one or two smokes a day. So rather than saying, I can't keep this up forever, I can say, enh, it's just one or two a day, it's no big deal, I don't have to quit.

Was this part of his Vanity Fair makeover? I read the first part. It was pretty funny.

Roxanne Roberts: I think the makeover got Christopher thinking about quitting, but it was the chain-smoking book tour that made him quit. As for the one or two a day---I'm no doctor, so I can't say how much damage it does---but health insurance companies don't make any distinction between one cigarette or three packs a day, which you'll discover is you ever need to buy your own insurance. A word to the wise.

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A. E. Housman: Not a name likely to appear in any of your columns, but in 1896 he wrote "To an Athlete Dying Young" which sums up the town's universal sadness over a runner who dies at the peak of his abilities. I think that's some of what we feel over the death of Heath Ledger, a gifted human being who left us too soon.

Roxanne Roberts: I studied that poem in college. Probably Houseman's best. And yes, this may be the first time his name popped up in the chat.

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Washington, D.C.: Okay, I'm not trying to be mean here. But when I heard that Heath Ledger died, I said "who?" When I was told he was the guy in Brokeback Mountain I said okay, I've heard of that. But to me, he's still just "the guy who was in Brokeback Mountain". And talking to at least a dozen other people in my office this morning, most had the same reaction. So what is it with fame? How is it that some people think we lost a major talent while other people wouldn't recognize the guy if he walked into the room? Is this just a pop culture thing? Fame seems to be so easily doled out these days.

Amy Argetsinger: Okay, thanks for asking.

We grieve the death of stars because these are people we feel a connection to despite the fact we don't know them. That's why they're stars.

You'll hear a lot of talk about Heath Ledger being the best actor of his generation, and certainly, the subtle, intelligent work he did in "Brokeback Mountain" proved him worthy of all the accolades. Was he really MUCH better than hundreds of top-of-their-drama-school actors floating around unemployed? Maybe not. But he had something more, and it's not just charisma or good looks, it's that ineffable quality that makes you, the movie-going ticket-buyer, care about the person on the screen, makes that person on the screen seem three-dimensional and real and breathing and vulnerable while all the others stand there like cardboard cutouts. It's the reason why Heath Ledger was getting cast in $100 million productions rather than that other guy who's in the respectable little repertory company back in Perth. It's star quality. It's the reason he's a star.

It's an illusion, of course. It fools us into thinking we kinda sorta know the star. It's why so many people were shocked when he and Michelle Williams broke up: "They seemed like such a good couple!" Well, really, what do we know about them? Nothing other than what a paparazzi's lens caught following them around Brooklyn, but on a gut level we liked what we saw. He seemed more alive than other people who will never be stars, and that's why we mourn him now that he's dead.

***

All right, that's the answer I prepared hours before I even got your question, which, on second read, I realize is a little different. You're sort of asking "how famous was Heath Ledger, really?" Hank Stuever argues in his essay today that Heath Ledger occupied a certain niche level of fame. He was probably never going to be the $20 million-a-picture guy, like Brad Pitt, but he certainly had his fan base. And it was growing. I realized a couple weeks ago that he was crossing over from teen-idol-turned-art house-star into something bigger -- there was suddenly all this buzz on the Internet about Heath Ledger playing The Joker in the next Batman film. This on the heels of playing Bob Dylan. He was definitely turning into a Johnny Depp type star, the kind of guy who makes you think "ooh, what's he going to do next?" (I've never really gotten the Johnny Depp thing; suffice it to say, I got the Heath Ledger thing.)

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Chelsea: The chatter wrote: "I don't think she is obligated to speak up for her mother at all."

Ummmmm she's CAMPAIGNING for her mother. You're right, if she were staying out of the race and just doing her thing, going to work and whatever, yeah, sure leave her alone. But she's actively campaigning and refusing to make any comments. That's just plain strange.

Roxanne Roberts: That's what the debate is about.

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Washington, DC: Hello,

Just want to make an endorsement for a wonderful 1-woman play called "No Child" playing at Woolly Mammoth Theatre. It was such a moving and amazing performance. Her commentary on America's public schools is honest and heartbreaking yet has re-inspired me to continue what I do -- which is teach! I wish that everyone could see this play, especially politicians and other No Child Left Behind proponents. I encourage everyone to see it! Nilaja Sun was amazing!

Amy Argetsinger: All right, thanks!

(Note to publicists lurking in the chat: We're not gonna make a habit of this, but I felt like it was a good idea to go local and positive for a brief second here.)

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Richmond, Va.: Early yesterday I heard reported that Heath Ledger was found in Mary Kate Olsen's apartment. Is there any truth to this?

Roxanne Roberts: That was a report given by a police spokeman that quickly turned out to be completely untrue--but it caused a sensation for about two hours.

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New York City: Time to take a stand gang. If Heath died of an accident it is a tragic death of a talented actor. If he died of a drug overdose he is nothing but another, Hollywood bum! Period, end of discussion!

Amy Argetsinger: Uh, anyone else?

What about an accidental overdose of non-recreational drugs? Not that anyone knows at this point...

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Takoma Park, Md.: re: Heath's Death --

Partially due to the suddenness of it all. Partially due he and I being the same age.

Partially because of his talent, and partially because he didn't seem very troubled on the surface.

Hoping all my 'partially's make sense...

Amy Argetsinger: Yes, thanks...

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Washington, D.C.: Who will play Heath Ledger in the eventual Heath Ledger movie?

Amy Argetsinger: Anyone?

But seriously, I don't think that will happen.

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Heath Ledger isn't Anna Nicole: To reply to an earlier commenter -- No, this won't resonate like the Anna Nicole flap, at least in part because there must be quite a few people like me that never heard of Heath Ledger until this week. Even I, however, knew the backstory for Anna Nicole.

Amy Argetsinger: Fair enough. It's just a different story, is all. News stories die if there's nothing more to report.

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Heath Ledger: What makes his death resonate with me is the fact that he seemed like a regular guy who happens to be a great actor. He didn't participate in the shenanigans of other actors his age (male and female), he seemed to have a solid relationship with Michelle Williams until they split, and when they did split it seemed pretty amicable, if you consider not having it spread in the tabloids amicable. Plus he's the father of a two year old girl who'll never know her father the way all little girls should. So it's the loss of potential that resonates. And for the record, being Oscar nominated is nothing to sneeze at. Hence why you hear in previews "Starring Academy Award Nominated so-and-so" My condolences to the family.

Amy Argetsinger: Thanks...

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Re: resonance: I've been wondering this myself. In my mind, I think it's because: he was so young, he seemed very down to earth for a someone who could easily have "gotten high on the fumes of their own press", he did actually have acting talent in the same vein as Spencer Tracy's, and he's seemed from the outside to be a very decent and likable person. If it matters I'm a guy and first saw him in 10 Things I Hate About You.

Amy Argetsinger: Thanks...

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Bethesda, Md.: Where is the respect for the dead anymore? Until it is know how Health Ledger died, people shouldn't call him a druggie etc..

Amy Argetsinger: Thanks for that too.

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Almost that time of year again: What is the best kind of Girl Scout cookie?

Roxanne Roberts: It's a tie for me: Samoas and thin mints.

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Washington, D.C.: My dad (a doctor) and I have this theory that all the truly great actors are probably diagnosable with hysteric personality disorder. It allows a person to let go of "normal" and be most anything else, for a time. Most of our personalities are too deeply rooted to slip into another one and make it convincing. Most of us are too rigid in our inhibitions to screech like a banshee on command, or get naked with a near stranger in a sex scene. AND, most of us are entirely aware of how many sleeping pills we've taken, and of the dangers of taking more.

Various personality disorders make the lives of professional actors possible... unfortunately, these disorders often seem to contribute to their deaths with fair regularity.

Amy Argetsinger: Okay, this is going to sound disrespectful, and counter to the respectful, let's-not-judge tone I've been striking thus far, but... I completely agree with you, and this is one of the first things I thought of yesterday. Not to make any broad and irresponsible statements, but actors are crazy. They are more sensitive, more neurotic, they feel things more deeply than the rest of us, their egos are more fragile -- and often, the best ones are the craziest.

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Why does it make me sad?: Because I'm a human. Because he had a daughter. Because he wasn't even thirty. Because I love his singing scene in 10 Things I Hate About You. Because death is sad. People die daily but we are rarely confronted with it in such a way that all the news media and all the Internet outlets cover one persons death so -- personally.

Amy Argetsinger: I'm putting 10 Things I Hate About You on my Netflix queue.

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Woodbridge, Va.: I don't know about you all, but I'm sick to death of hearing about this Amy Winehouse (whoever she is) and all her problems. Who cares?

Amy Argetsinger: Call me perverse, but I'm convinced that she's totally in control and that this is all schtick to further her career.

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Chinatown, D.C.: Once Stephen Colbert's portrait is taken down from the National Gallery, who would be the one person who you think should be honored there from the entertainment world? Personally, my vote is for Jennifer Garner.

Amy Argetsinger: Oooh, I agree! Just saw her in "Juno." So pretty. Pretty, pretty, pretty! Speaking as a completely well-adjusted red-blooded heterosexual woman, I could basically look at pictures of her all day.

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McLean, Va.: Thin Mints are the crack cocaine of the cookie world.

Amy Argetsinger: Wait -- where'd you get them? 'cause, the Girl Scouts don't start delivering yet, right?

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New York, N.Y.: I walk down Barrow whenever I visit my girlfriend. I saw all these flowers and candles. What possesses people to act this way? Do they feel better buying flowers and leaving them on the street? A head of state, or head of church I can understand. But an actor? Someone tell me what motivates these people? Are their lives so pathetic that they live it through celebs?

Amy Argetsinger: Okay, I will happily defend those of us who are sitting around feeling a little sad about a guy we didn't know, but I totally don't get the flower and candle piles. Anyone?

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Arlington, Va.: I get him being the subject of this chat, but he was the main story on CNN.com earlier today and was on ABC World News last night just after Fred Thompson dropped out. He seemed like a good actor, but he's not the next Dean.

Maybe it was a slow news day?

Amy Argetsinger: Indeed, Fred Thompson is a pretty good actor, but he's not the next Howard Dean.

Wait, what are we talking about here? Oh.

Is there an overdose of Ledger news? Maybe, ask again in a couple days if it's still lingering. And we can have the James Dean conversation next week or in a couple of years. I would argue, though, that Heath Ledger left behind a more impressive body of work. He had more of a chance to deliver on that initial promise, and he did.

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Super Bowl: I'm putting my entire 401K on your opinion here. The Patriots are favored by 12 over the Giants. Who should I take?

Roxanne Roberts: Given the market, your 401 will be down to $10 by Super Sunday. I'd take the Giants. The Pats are a better team, really want a perfect season, and will probably win the game. But the Giants are hot on the road, Brady is playing like crap, Eli wants to prove he's as good as his big bro, and I think the Giants will make it a close game. Of course, it could be a blowout, but with that spread, I'd go with New York.

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Washington, D.C.: Gotten your invitation to Jenna's wedding yet?

Amy Argetsinger: I keep checking the mail...

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Helena, Mont.: RE: Chelsea Clinton: Want some cheese with your whine? I get that she talked to VOTERS while campaigning for her mother. Hello -- the media do not VOTE. I don't get why the media complain about small fry like Chelsea Clinton on campaign trail and not talking to them so they can take whatever she said out of context and make a big story out of it. We have ELECTED officials -- Cheney comes to mind -- who do not talk to media or do so only in certain outlets. Complain loudly and often about that.

Roxanne Roberts: Like last week, we've got Chelsea supporters and detractors.

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Heath Ledger: This made me wonder, what's Julia Stiles doing? Haven't seen her since "Bourne."

Amy Argetsinger: Well, somebody thought they saw her at Al Crostino in D.C. over the weekend but we hadn't managed to track that down yesterday before we got all distracted with our Heath grief.

I assume she'll be co-starring in Bourne movies for the next decade and... ooh, check it out, according to IMDB, she'll be playing the Sylvia Plath-type role in The Bell Jar.

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Former, Brownie: Are you kidding? Best cookie by far is the Tagalongs. Followed by frozen Thin Mints. Trust me...I was the top cookie seller in my troop two years in a row!

Amy Argetsinger: I used to really be into frozen Thin Mints... until I had them fresh.

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Obama siblings: Isn't there a half brother as well as sisters?

Roxanne Roberts: There are actually four-half brothers scattered around the globe. Obama's father had six sons (one died in a car accident) but Obama is clearly closer to his half-sisters--especially Maya, because the two of them grew up together. None of the brothers, as far as we can tell, have campaigned for him yet.

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Kensington, Md: Watching the Maryland State of the State address. Do we have the hottest governor or what!

Amy Argetsinger: He is annoyingly attractive, I'll give him that. Of course, on Wonkette they've all got a crush on Alaska's Tina Fey-looking governor, Sarah Palin. But she's no Martin O'Malley.

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Amy Winehouse: I too am sick of the tawdry stuff, but man, she has quite a voice. Hope she can pull herself together. Quite honestly, the Britney train wreck has not really denied us too much in the way of "creative output", but Amy Winehouse is a real talent and very unique.

Roxanne Roberts: Agreed.

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Bush/Brolin: Who plays Laura?

Roxanne Roberts: Laura Linney, haired dyed brown?

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Addict: I NEED THIN MINTS!

Roxanne Roberts: ME TOO!

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Oscars: At first I thought the idea of the Oscars being canceled was kind of funny. But now I have this concern that it would be a replay of the Golden Globes, and we would be stuck watching and listening to the awful Billy Bush announce the winners.

Of all the incredibly untalented people on TV, how is it that he gets a paycheck to appear on TV? Might be the most annoying person alive.

Amy Argetsinger: Billy Bush is one of the more peculiar development in popular culture of the new millenium. What fascinates me about him is that, despite being a relatively young guy, he's not even TRYING to seem young, like everyone else in showbiz. He's like some crazy throwback, like a replacement host for Merv Griffin or Chuck Woollery.

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Washington, D.C.: Gilbert's favorite child is himself.

Amy Argetsinger: Zing!

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Oscars: Aside from 3:10 to Yuma, what else do you think was totally robbed by the Oscar nominations?

Amy Argetsinger:"The Darjeeling Limited," and Owen Wilson's performance in it. Marcus Carl Franklin in "I'm Not There." Christian Bale in "Rescue Dawn."

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Congratulations:: You've made it through three-fourths of the chat without a Spears comment!

Roxanne Roberts: There was just one in the Winehouse post. But come on---we've got another Tragic Celebrity to talk about, even more newsworthy because we didn't see it coming. I feel bad saying it, but no one will be surprised to find Britney dead.

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Amy, you should watch some "Alias": They made Jen Garner such a chameleon in her many outfits and wigs, and she was equally pretty as a blonde, brunette, redhead, whatever. And she totally kicked butt. And she's from (West) Virginia!

Amy Argetsinger: Oh, I watched "Alias" obsessively for three years. And then the fourth season began and I was suddenly so over it. Don't know what happened.

She was also great in "13 Going on 30."

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Flowers: The flower thing is weird. Not only is it a bit creepy -- you're intruding on the solemn moments of this family's life -- you're also just making a mess. Someone has to clean up the sidewalks when you're done pretending that you were any closer than six degrees from this person.

Amy Argetsinger: So true.

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News confusion: My 80-year-old mother, a dyed-in-the-wool-Democrat, called yesterday to say that Fred Thompson had dropped dead. I had to explain twice that he had dropped OUT, and Heath Ledger had died. When worlds collide...

Amy Argetsinger: Would anyone have noticed if Fred Thompson dropped dead yesterday?

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Who plays Laura?: Marcia Gay Harden?

Roxanne Roberts: A little too tough, I think. Someone a little more Steel Magnolia, velvet glove-ish.

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Washington, D.C.: I think the Bourne series is done. What's beyond "Ultimatum?"

Amy Argetsinger: Let's see, "The Bourne Redundancy," "The Bourne Superfluous"....

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Alexandria, Va.: I'm a 46-year-old woman and I believe I've never seen Heath Ledger in a movie. Yet I'm sad, really sad thinking about it. Perhaps older people (let's say, over 40) have their own perception of the tragedy of dying at 28, and with so much promise. I could say that one's 30's are one of the great periods of one's life -- you still learn so much, establish a home, watch children grow -- but really, as long as you are standing it is a great time of your life. I'm grateful to be here and know his family must be beyond heartbroken that he isn't.

Amy Argetsinger: Absolutely true what you say about one's 30s -- way better than one's 20s.

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Drug overdoses: are tragedies. Drug addiction is not something people want to experience. It is sad no matter what, because somebody loved the person who overdosed and was hoping they'd get clean.

Amy Argetsinger: Thanks. Though, again, not that we actually know that's what happened here...

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Invitations to Jenna's wedding: Will not go out until April 1st, per Emily Post.

Roxanne Roberts: Then again, this is a destination wedding, so could be sent out earlier. Hotel rooms near Crawford are hard to come by.

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Who plays Laura?: Holly Hunter - she's got the accent!

Amy Argetsinger: Good idea. Rox thinks she's too flinty, though, not steel-magnolia enough.

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Best cookie by far is the Tagalongs: Yes! I used to eat an entire box in one sitting. Can't do that now that I'm a bit older. But nothing is better than peanut butter and chocolate. Not in my world, anyway.

Roxanne Roberts: Have to agree to disagree.

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Girl Scout Cookies: I've already gotten mine (and eaten most of them) and have gotten offers for more in the future. Apparently the troops have assigned time slots during which they can sell so as to spread the wealth.

Roxanne Roberts: I'm still getting over the Christmas cookies.

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Hello Posties!: Have you ever considered doing a "where are they now?" type of column for former Posties? I admit that I'm curious about Leiby, Amy Joyce, Von Drehle, the guy who left for that political blog, and even John Kelly (even though I know he will be back). What are they up to now? Do they miss you all? Post fans like me want to know! For only the best reasons of course.

Amy Argetsinger: Maybe we can devote a corner of the web chat to this one day. Amy Joyce is just back from maternity leave and taking a new job as an editor with the Weekend section, so while we get to see her, you won't. Von Drehle seems to be having fun at Time magazine. Leiby is Leiby. (No, seriously, he's doing great.) I'll drop John Kelly a line and ask him what's up...

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Heath Ledger: Was he in a relationship? I seem to remember something about him and a model right after he and Michelle Williams split. However, no mention was made in any of the stories today or yesterday.

Amy Argetsinger: There was a lot of talk about various models in the wake of his breakup with Michelle Williams, nothing very solid, though...

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Brokeback: I was no big fan of the movie, but saw it and thought it was really well made, and I got to tell you, it was an outrage that Crash beat it out for Best Picture. I enjoyed Crash more, but Brokeback was a much much better movie.

Amy Argetsinger: Word. Crash was a very silly movie. Brokeback Mountain was art.

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RE: Billy Bush: I can't stop laughing about your Billy Bush description (so spot on!). He is kinda like another TV host, Roger Lodge -- from the dating show Blind Date. You don't know if they are young guys who look old or old guys who look young. Roger Lodge was born in 64 -- so he actually is a young guy who looks quite young! HILARIOUS!

Amy Argetsinger: That's hilarious about Roger Lodge! We just need one more example of older-than-they-seem guys in pop culture, and then we've got ourselves a trend story.

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First Daughter's Wedding: Given that the wedding is taking place in Crawford do you think the White House will share many details about the affair, or do you think they will shield it from much publicity?

Roxanne Roberts: I believe the location was chosen to provide maximum privacy for all. The White House will probably release a picture or two and maybe a few details of the ceremony and reception---or maybe nothing. Let's hope we get a few crumbs.

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New York: I'm in New York for the day, and did you realize there is a Palm here too? Three of them actually. Do they have the same charm as the D.C. place?

Amy Argetsinger: Well, why don't you stop in and do some reporting for us? By the way, did you know that the Palm in D.C. was the first Palm outside of New York? But now they're everywhere, like Cheesecake Factories.

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Washington Navy Yard: Good afternoon ladies; what's your take on the secret Hillary Clinton and John Edwards meeting that took place after the debate the other night? Any good gossip? Do you think they made a pact to be each other's VPs?

Amy Argetsinger: Secret meeting AFTER the debate? I was thinking there had to have been a secret meeting before the debate where they agreed to tag-team Obama. The way they kept talking about "our" health care plan as opposed to his... weird.

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Heath Ledger reporting: What was going on with the coverage? In the hours after the story of his death broke, I read that he was staying at the apartment of one of the Olsen twins, that he was popping pills and that he might have committed suicide. Now it seems that all of those are incorrect. How can the media screw that up so much? Do the people who write this eventually get yelled at by their bosses at least?

Amy Argetsinger: I gotta say, I was disappointed to see a mainstream, highly respected newspaper put out titillating reports about Mary-Kate Olsen and suicide yesterday afternoon -- and then completely walk away from them by nightfall.

What happened, I'm guessing, is that they started hearing stuff from sources in the frenzy of early news-gathering and then that stuff turned out not to be substantiated. Happens all the time, always has. What's different now, though, is that they're putting all that stuff up on the web while they're reporting it, rather than waiting for a mostly well-cooked version that ends up in the print edition the following day. I'm not sure what the solution is, but I didn't care much for how it all went down yesterday.

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Chelsea: So you beef is with her not speaking to press? I thought she was keeping tight-lipped overall? Does she speak to people in the crowds when she is with her mother? If that's the case, I agree that she doesn't "owe" the media a soundbite

Roxanne Roberts: She doesn't "owe" anything. I believe she does talk to some people in the crowds, but never addressed the rallies or made any kind of speech in support of her mom---and fact that some supporters and observers find odd. The fact is: When anyone goes out on the campaign trail, they usually voice the reasons why people should vote for their candidate---in this case, her mother. Chelsea doesn't do that. People notice.

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John Kelly: Miss him, too. But he has a website with a blog and funny photos

What are those spires dreaming about, anyway? (John Kelly Page)

Amy Argetsinger: Oh. Well, then, I don't need to e-mail him!

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Jenna's wedding: Bush and company desperately need all the positive exposure they can get. Warm and fuzzies from Jenna's wedding definitely fit the bill. We'll get plenty of pictures and "the bride carried roses... the president danced with his daughter..." description!

Roxanne Roberts: Hope so.

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Heath Ledger: This was major news in our family last evening. It required some grief counseling by phone with my 23-year-old daughter, who had a fish in high school named "Heath" -- you know, one of those solitary beta fish. I was expecting Britney, not this.

Amy Argetsinger: Exactly.

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Ryan Seacrest: I had to agree about a previous poster's comment on Billy Bush -- and say I'm even more annoying! I'm hard-pressed to why I keep getting gigs like the Emmy's and Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve. When will I just go away?

Amy Argetsinger: But Ryan Seacrest is kind of the opposite, no? He's a 33-year-old guy affecting kind of a 25-year-old surfer dude aesthetic. Well, no, wait, that's like every 40-year-old guy in Los Angeles, so I'll cut him a break.

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Columbia, Md.: First, although I don't have a question about Heath Ledger, I am very sorry about what happened. He was fine actor. My condolences to his family. Second, as someone who watches the local news regularly (and my apologies to non-D.C. people) I have to wonder if Adrian Fenty ever sleeps. He seems to be literally everywhere -- both recent fires (on the same night), the aftermath of the shootings near the high school, the school closure meetings -- it seems there's a virtual army of Fentys criss-crossing D.C. I'm exhausted just watching.

Roxanne Roberts: I don't think he sleeps a lot. Remember---this guy is in GREAT shape---he runs marathons, etc. Lots of energy there!

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Alias - "over it": They killed Vaughn! That's what happened! I quit watching the day he died. Then he came back to life late in the next season. Boy, was my face red. I had to Netflix it the instant it became available.

Amy Argetsinger: There was just too much "Look who turns out not to be dead!" and "Look who turns out to be our enemy though we thought he was our friend, though before that he was our enemy but flipped sides!" You can only do that trick once.

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RE: wedding is taking place in Crawford : Oh, when you said "destination wedding" I was thinking some exotic locale.

Roxanne Roberts: How many folks you think will turn down the chance to go?

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Tucker: How often do you ladies pop up on his show?

Amy Argetsinger: We're on there most Friday afternoons, around about 6:45 (when most self-respecting people are off having their second drink), except when Tucker's got an overload of real news or one of us has a conflicting social obligation.

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Playing Laura: Since you're on this "Steel Magnolias" kick, just go with the obvious: Julia Roberts!

Roxanne Roberts: Too famous.

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River City: re: "Former, Brownie: Are you kidding? Best cookie by far is the Tagalongs. Followed by frozen Thin Mints. Trust me...I was the top cookie seller in my troop two years in a row!"

Hard to believe since Brownies don't sell cookies! Girl Scouts do, not Brownies.

Roxanne Roberts: Now I want a brownie and Thin Mint.

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More on Heath: Frankly, I think popular movie stars earn every bit of their money. They cannot do anything without paparazzi following their every move. Each relationship is under a microscope. Yes, other people work hard for less money, but other people do not have to be "on" all the time, or be as emotionally invested in their work. I can see how Heath Ledger was exhausted because he was trying to do it all. My first thought upon hearing about his untimely death was "his poor little girl" -- and I think that and the fact that he was so talented and would have done so much more is what is so immensely tragic about all of this.

Amy Argetsinger: Good point.

Let me also say this: Heath Ledger inspires a lot of sadness in part because of the unlikely roles he picked -- a lot of small, weird, niche-y art house roles that end up being a lot more ingratiating than the big-budget roles seen by millions of people. If Brad Pitt died, his death would be felt by more people; Heath Ledger's death is felt by fewer people, but they probably feel it more deeply.

For example, I feel a certain connection to Heath Ledger because of his delightful role (convincingly playing a grizzled beach bum at the tender age of 25) in "Lords of Dogtown," a movie seen by myself and probably 12 other people; and also because of his role as Bob Dylan in "I'm Not There," the first-ever major Hollywood production created solely and specifically for only one viewer, me, Amy Argetsinger.

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Jennifer Garner: Funny that you thought she was pretty in Juno. I think she is beautiful but I thought they purposefully made her look sort of wound up tight in that movie. She never looked relaxed, very uncomfortable, and so not as pretty. I thought that was the way she was supposed to be and thought she is a good actress because it's taking away from her beauty. (well, plus the makeup and hair.)

Amy Argetsinger: Oh yes -- she was actually acting, and she was good. We can have another chat some day about how pretty Jennifer Garner is.

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Importance of Heath: Where does his death hit you guys on levels of importance? Certainly not JFK Jr., but probably higher than Rerun from What's Happening?

Or will this just be someone that we all forget about until next year's Oscars and they show his picture, everyone applauds, and we start talking about Brokeback Mountain again?

Amy Argetsinger: It's too soon to tell. I think Jim Morrison had been dead a full decade before he truly became a superstar.

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RE: Fred Thompson dropped out: Okay, but didn't everyone think he dropped out two weeks ago? I was like, THAT'S news? C'mon.

I gasped when I read the news about Heath Ledger. I was looking forward to seeing more from the actor who made me cry while watching a movie I didn't think I was going to like (Brokeback Mountain).

Amy Argetsinger: Right on both counts.

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Who Plays Laura?: Janine Turner (needs to get rid of the awful red hair from last night's Law and Order: SVU)

Debra Monk (a little obscure, but if she lost 30 pounds she'd be a dead ringer for Laura, also an excellent character actor.)

Amy Argetsinger: Thanks for your votes.

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Falls Church, Va.: Why aren't you guys reporting about Tom Brady and Giselle's run in with Leonardo at a N.Y. club? Who are you guys partial towards, and don't say Daniel Craig?

Amy Argetsinger: Too much stuff happening here in D.C. for us to pay much attention to tabloid reports out of NYC, unless they involve Barbara Bush. Had missed that one. Since you ask, our absolute favorite topics are Jenna Bush, Gilbert Arenas and Condi Rice, who unfortunately doesn't create enough gossipy news for us.

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Ryan Seacrest: Did you know he actually has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? For what may I ask?

Amy Argetsinger: Oh, everyone has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. A couple more appearances on Tucker Carlson and I'll probably be eligible. Have you ever walked along that street and looked at those stars? Whole lotta nobodies.

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New York Palm: The DC Palm -- the first outside New York -- was built in Washington at the suggestion of George H.W. Bush, who complained about the lack of good food in Washington, according to Palm lore.

Amy Argetsinger: That's a beautiful story, thank you.

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Laura, actor: Andie McDowell?

Amy Argetsinger: Hmmm, not bad.

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Wedding: Have they released anything? Details about the dress? Is her sister the Maid of Honor? What has the White House released?

Amy Argetsinger: Nope, nothing.

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Even My 67-year-old Mom is Bummed About Heath: Friends I haven't spoken to in weeks are calling to talk about Heath. We just really, genuinely enjoyed his movies...he seemed substantial AND pretty. The Ambien angle makes sense...if it has prompted some unfortunate "sleepwalkers" to get up in the middle of the night and eat entire cakes, drive their cars, etc., without any memories of doing so....well, it makes you wonder.

- Chris in Nevada City

Amy Argetsinger: Thanks. Yuppie insomnia -- I don't want to sound flippant about it, it really is a problem.

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Playing Laura: Linsday Lohan--with all the alcohol, drugs and sun damage she could pass for a fifty-year-old about right about now.

Amy Argetsinger: So not true. She doesn't look a day over 35.

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Heath Ledger death: I have to say it resonates mostly because he was young, cute and one of those people on the verge (or some would say had already) transitioned from pretty boy face to serious actor.

Also he was one of my first high school crushes, but that, of course, is beside the point.

Amy Argetsinger: You know what part of his appeal was? He didn't smile a whole lot, so when he did flash that smile, it was just devastating.

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Foggy Bottom, Washington, D.C.: Some, upon reading the latest Sleuth blog about State Department Office of Public Diplomacy nominee James Glassman, might be skeptical about his qualificationa and eventual effectiveness in the job, but I worked in that area of State, and can say that an expensively-dressed neocon is just what we need in order to win the hearts and minds of those around the world who might be skeptical about U.S. foreign policy practices and who think we are a country whose policies are determined by the rich and our leaders are insensitive to the plight of the world¿s poor. My only worry is whether some conservative members of the Senate might vote against him because he seems to feel that American-made suits are not good enough for him.

washingtonpost.com: Potential New Top Diplomat: A Clothes Horse ( The Sleuth, Jan. 2)

Amy Argetsinger: Okay, thanks for raising the level of discourse here, albeit briefly.

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Amy Argetsinger: All right, the fact that Roxanne has already left to go get lunch is probably my cue that I should be wrapping things up here and getting to work.

Again, Hank Stuever will be online at 2 p.m. to talk about Heath Ledger, and he's way more thoughtful than me, so please tune in.

Talk to you next week, and meanwhile, keep us in touch via reliablesource@washpost.com.

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