Heath Ledger Found Dead in NYC at Age 28
By TOM HAYS
The Associated Press
Tuesday, January 22, 2008; 7:12 PM
NEW YORK -- Heath Ledger was found dead Tuesday in a Manhattan apartment, naked in bed with sleeping pills nearby, police said. The Australian-born actor was 28. It wasn't immediately clear if Ledger had committed suicide. He had an appointment for a massage at the residence in the tony neighborhood of SoHo, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said.
A housekeeper who went to let him know the massage therapist had arrived found him dead at 3:26 p.m.
Ledger's body had not been removed from the building where paparazzi and gawkers gathered outside, and several police officers put up barricades to control the crowd of about 300. A medical examiner's office van arrived with a gurney Tuesday evening.
An autopsy was planned for Wednesday, medical examiner's office spokeswoman Ellen Borakove said.
It was a shocking and unforeseen conclusion for one of Hollywood's bright young stars. Though his leading man looks propelled him to early stardom in films like "10 Things I Hate About You" and "A Knight's Tale," his career took a notable turn toward dramatic and brooding roles with 2001's "Monster's Ball."
"I had such great hope for him," said Mel Gibson, who played Ledger's vengeful father in "The Patriot," in a statement from the actor's publicist. "He was just taking off and to lose his life at such a young age is a tragic loss. My thoughts and prayers are with him and his family."
Ledger eschewed Hollywood glitz in favor of a bohemian life in Brooklyn, where he was one of the borough's most famous residents. "Brokeback" would be his breakthrough role, establishing him as one of his generation's finest talents and an actor willing to take risks.
Ledger began to gravitate more toward independent fare, including Lasse Hallstrom's "Casanova" and Terry Gilliam's "The Brothers Grimm," both released in 2005. His 2006 film "Candy" now seems destined to have an especially haunting quality: In a particularly realistic performance, Ledger played a poet wrestling with a heroin addiction along with his girlfriend, played by Abbie Cornish.
But Ledger's most recent choices were arguably the boldest yet: He costarred in "I'm Not There," in which he played one of the many incarnations of Bob Dylan _ as did Cate Blanchett, whose performance in that film earned an Oscar nomination Tuesday for best supporting actress.
And in what may be his final finished performance, Ledger proved that he wouldn't be intimidated by taking on a character as iconic as Jack Nicholson's Joker. Ledger's version of the Batman villain, glimpsed in early teaser trailers, made it clear that his Joker would be less comical and more depraved and dark.
Curiosity to see Ledger's final performance will likely further stoke interest in the summer blockbuster. "Dark Knight" director Christopher Nolan said earlier this month that Ledger's performance as the Joker would be wildly different than Jack Nicholson's memorable turn in 1989's "Batman."
"It was a very great challenge for Heath," Nolan said. "He's extremely original, extremely frightening, tremendously edgy. A very young character, a very anarchic presence that taps into a lot of our basic fears and panic."
Ledger told The New York Times in a November interview that he "stressed out a little too much" during the Dylan film, and had trouble sleeping while portraying the Joker, whom he called a "psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy."
"Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night," Ledger told the newspaper. "I couldn't stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going." He said he took two Ambien pills, which only worked for an hour, the paper said.
Before settling down with Williams, Ledger had relationships with actresses Heather Graham and Naomi Watts. He met Watts while working on "The Lords of Dogtown," a fictionalized version of a cult classic skateboarding documentary, in 2004.
Ledger was born in 1979 in Perth, in western Australia, to a mining engineer and a French teacher, and got his first acting role playing Peter Pan at age 10 at a local theater company. He began acting in independent films as a 16-year-old in Sydney and played a cyclist hoping to land a spot on an Olympic team in a 1996 television show, "Seat."
After several independent films, Ledger moved to Los Angeles at age 19 and costarred opposite Julia Stiles in "10 Things I Hate About You." Offers for other teen flicks soon came his way, but Ledger turned them down, preferring to remain idle than sign on for projects he didn't like.
"It wasn't a hard decision for me," Ledger told the Associated Press in 2001. "It was hard for everyone else around me to understand. Agents were like, `You're crazy,' my parents were like, `Come on, you have to eat.'"