New York: Hollywood Actor Heath Ledger Found Dead

Associated Press

New York, Jan 23: Actor Heath Ledger was found dead at a Manhattan apartment, naked in bed with sleeping pills nearby, police said. He was 28.

Police said on Tuesday there was no obvious indication of suicide.

The Australian-born Ledger had an appointment for a massage at the SoHo apartment that is believed to be his home, New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said. The massage therapist and a housekeeper found his body and tried to revive him.

''We are all deeply saddened and shocked by this accident,'' Ledger's publicist, Mara Buxbaum, said in a statement on Tuesday night. ''This is an extremely difficult time for his loved ones and we are asking the media to please respect the family's privacy and avoid speculation until the facts are known.''

A crowd of paparazzi and onlookers gathered outside the building, where several police officers guarded the door. The medical examiner's office planned an autopsy on Wednesday, spokeswoman Ellen Borakove said.

It was a shocking end 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, where he played a suicidal prison guard.

That led to an Oscar nomination in 2006 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 until they split up last year.

Brokeback would be Ledger's breakthrough role, establishing him as one of his generation's finest talents and an actor willing to take risks.

''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, who moved to the United States at age 19, quickly turned away from typical teen films and instead started to build a career on more challenging roles.

His 2006 film Candy now seems destined to have an especially haunting quality: 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 his boldest: He co-starred 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 on Tuesday for best supporting actress.

And in what may be his final finished performance, Ledger showed that he would not be intimidated by taking on a character as iconic as Jack Nicholson's Joker. Ledger's version of the Batman villain, glimpsed in early trailers, made it clear that his Joker would be less comical and more depraved and dark.


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