Heath Ledger was found dead Tuesday at a downtown Manhattan apartment, and police said drugs may have been a factor. The Australian-born actor was 28. Police said Ledger was naked in his bed with an unknown number of sleeping pills near the body.
Actor Heath Ledger nominated for best actor for "Brokeback Mountain" arrives at the 78th annual Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, California in this March 5, 2006 file photo. Ledger was found dead in his Manhattan apartment on Tuesday, possibly of a drug overdose, New York City police said. (File photo: REUTERS)
Ledger had an appointment for a massage at a residence in the tony SoHo neighborhood, 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.
A large crowd of paparazzi and gawkers began gathering Tuesday evening outside the building on an upscale block, where several police officers guarded the door. The medical examiner's office planned an autopsy on Wednesday, spokeswoman Ellen Borakove said.
While not a marquee movie star, Ledger was a respected, award-winning actor who took his craft seriously rather than cashing in on his heartthrob looks. He was nominated for an Oscar for his performance as a gay cowboy in "Brokeback Mountain," where he met Michelle Williams, who played his wife in the film. The two had a daughter, Matilda, and lived together in Brooklyn until they split up last year.
Ledger most recently appeared 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.
Ledger had finished filming his role as the Joker this year in "The Dark Knight," a sequel to 2005's "Batman Begins."
He's had starring roles in "A Knight's Tale" and "The Patriot," and played the suicidal son of Billy Bob Thornton in "Monster's Ball." He also played a heroin addict in the 2006 Australian film "Candy."
Heath Ledger (L) and director of "Brokeback Mountain" Ang Lee
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 co-starred opposite Julia Stiles in "10 Things I Hate About You," a teen comedy reworking of "The Taming of the Shrew." His movie career caught on soon after that, culminating with his Academy Award nomination for "Brokeback Mountain."
"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 had 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."
Actor Heath Ledger is shown in an undated publicity photo as The Joker in upcoming The Dark Knight (File photo: Warner Bros. Pictures).
The body of actor Heath Ledger is removed from a Soho apartment by the NYC Medical Examiner team Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2008, in New York. Ledger, 28, an Australian-born actor, was found dead in the Manhattan residence on Tuesday. He had an appointment for a massage 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. (Photo: AP)
The body of actor Heath Ledger is removed from a Soho apartment by the NYC Medical Examiner team Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2008, in New York. (Photo: AP)
New York City Medical Examiners carry the body of actor Heath Ledger from his apartment in New York January 22, 2008. (Photo: AP)
Police stand in front of the Soho residence where the body of Heath Ledger was found, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2008, in New York. (Photo: AP)
(China Daily/Agencies January 23, 2008)