Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Actor Heath Ledger is found dead

Actor Heath Ledger is found dead

NEW YORK (AFP) — Actor Heath Ledger, 28, who skyrocketed to fame in his role as a gay cowboy in the Oscar-winning movie "Brokeback Mountain," was found dead in a New York residence on Tuesday, police said.

Police sources told US media that prescription pills were found in the apartment and said signs pointed to either an accidental overdose or suicide. An autopsy on the Australian native was scheduled for Wednesday.

"Heath Ledger was found dead at 3:26 pm (2036 GMT) this afternoon," a police spokesman said, saying he was found in an apartment in the posh district of Soho.

New York City deputy police commissioner Paul Browne said a masseuse and a housekeeper discovered the actor's body after the masseuse arrived for an appointment.

They were "waiting for him to come out of the bedroom. When he didn't come out, they checked on him and found the body at the foot of the bed," Browne told reporters.

He added that reports that prescription medications were scattered around Ledger's body were not true, and stressed that police were waiting the medical examiner's report before commenting on the cause of death.

"There were prescription medications that included sleeping pills that were taken from the apartment. The reports that they were scattered around the body were untrue," said Browne.

"The police department has made no determination as to the cause of death."

Expressions of sorrow poured in from Hollywood, as colleagues mourned the young actor's passing.

"The studio is stunned and devastated by this tragic news," Warner Brothers chief Alan Horn and Warner Bros Picture Group president Jeff Robinov said in a statement.

"The entertainment community has lost an enormous talent. Heath was a brilliant actor and an exceptional person. Our hearts go out to his family and friends."

Ledger, who was nominated for a best actor Oscar for his portrayal of a gay cowboy in the 2005 film "Brokeback Mountain," had separated from his former fiancee Michelle Williams in September. The pair, who met on the set of the Ang Lee-directed drama, have a two-year-old daughter, Matilda Rose.

Ledger had been working this month on his latest movie, "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus," directed by Terry Gilliam, which was due out next year. He also portrays The Joker in the upcoming Batman movie "Dark Knight."

Lee had hailed Ledger's performance in "Brokeback Mountain" as a "miracle" of acting, reminiscent of a young Marlon Brando.

Ledger lost the Oscar for best actor in 2006 to Phillip Seymour Hoffman for his portrayal of author Truman Capote in "Capote," but "Brokeback Mountain" won three Academy Awards, including for best director.

The flaxen-haired heart throb first came to prominence by acting as a homosexual athlete in little-known Australian soap opera "Sweat" in 1996.

The creator and writer of the series, John Rapsey, once said it was clear even then that Ledger, then a 16-year-old sports champion and high school dropout, possessed an unusual talent.

"He himself had absolutely no problem playing the role. He handled all of that with great aplomb," Rapsey told AFP.

"What was noticeable about him was he was concentrated, very quiet, and you could see that he was really observant of other people."

Ledger, who never attended acting school and who left his home state of Western Australia for Sydney as a teenager, credited his instincts with his success.

"The one thing that's got me to where I'm sitting is my instincts, you know, and I'm impatient. I didn't want to wait for years to work. I wanted to just get out there and do it," he said in an Australian television interview in 2001.

At 19, Ledger left Sydney for Hollywood, where his standout talent was spotted by Mel Gibson when auditioning 500 actors for the role of his son in "The Patriot" -- a big-time break that led to his leading role in "A Knight's Tale."

"I had such great hope for him," Gibson said in a statement. "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."

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