CEDAR RAPIDS, IA—Blake Yardley, 34, told reporters Monday that he felt extremely humbled to have been the individual who, amidst the chaos and sadness of actor Heath Ledger's recent untimely passing, had the foresight and due reverence to add the death date to the star's Wikipedia page.
Saying that he is not looking for credit or public acclaim, the Wikipedia editor and Best Value Windows employee called his addition of "– 22 January 2008)" to Ledger's online encyclopedia biography a distinct privilege, and something he will cherish for the rest of his life.
"To have my name even associated with Heath Ledger's is a triumph in and of itself," Yardley said at a press conference held at his Cedar Rapids apartment. "But to be the one who was actually responsible for inserting that fateful month, day, and year, and to have essentially closed the parentheses on Mr. Ledger's life, fills me with a tremendous sense of humility, pride, and accomplishment."
"I just want to thank Heath Ledger's family and friends for giving me the opportunity," Yardley added. "I'm sure they knew of his passing well before I did."
According to Yardley, upon reading the news of Ledger's death on CNN.com, his first thoughts were for Ledger's parents, baby daughter, and Michelle Williams, the actor's former fiancée, . His next thought, for Ledger's Wikipedia page, came immediately, Yardley explained. So immediately, in fact, that, according to a list of IP addresses found in the entry's editing history, Yardley added the date into the free, user-generated online encyclopedia just three minutes after Ledger's death was first reported.
"When I saw that the only thing following Mr. Ledger's name was '4 April 1979,' I knew it was my responsibility as a citizen and a member of the online community to do something," Yardley said. "Somebody had to click on the page's edit function, and, using the correct font and syntax, bring the acclaimed actor's life to the solemn close it rightfully deserved."
Yardley said he had never met Ledger, but just weeks before his death watched A Knight's Tale on TBS and enjoyed it very much.
Knowing that Ledger's Wikipedia page would be read by hundreds of millions of people, Yardley frantically wrote and rewrote the 15-character entry multiple times, repeatedly clicking on the "show preview" option to make sure the spacing was perfect.
"I couldn't decide whether to write January as 'Jan.' or 'January,'" Yardley said. "I ended up spelling out the month because I thought it was the respectful thing to do. That's also how whoever added the day of Anna Nicole Smith's death did it."
However, only moments after clicking on the "Save page" button, Yardley realized he had neglected to change the word following the closing parenthesis from "is" to "was." But when he attempted to make the correction, Yardley told reporters, he was "deeply saddened" to find that somebody, between the time he added the death date and the time the page went live, had already altered that portion of Ledger's biography.
"I was shocked when I saw that," said Yardley, adding that he took a personal moment to grieve the lost opportunity. "But I guess that's how unpredictable life can be sometimes. One second you're on top of the world as the author of a crucial Wikipedia entry, and the next second it's all gone. Poof."
Said Yardley: "If I could go back and change anything about that fateful day, that would surely be it."
Though Yardley is proud of all his contributions to the user-moderated encyclopedia, he noted that this recent triumph brought with it a greater level of fame than any of his previous Wikipedia updates, which include the number of attendees at a 2006 Dave Matthews concert and the name of Bruce Willis's dog.
"I don't want this to turn into some type of media spectacle," Yardley said. "I just want to continue doing what I do, far from the national spotlight, without worrying about who's keeping track."