Oscar-nominated actor Heath Ledger was found dead in a New York apartment late Tuesday afternoon (January 22). The star of such critically acclaimed films as “Brokeback Mountain,” “Monster’s Ball” and the upcoming Batman sequel, “The Dark Knight,” Ledger was 28.
An NYPD spokesman told MTV News that the body was found at approximately 3:30 p.m. A preliminary autopsy was inconclusive , although CNN reported that the NYPD suspects a possible drug overdose. “Pills were found in the vicinity of the bed,” police spokesman Paul Browne told CNN. “This is being looked at as a possible overdose, but that is not confirmed yet.” The pills appeared to be over-the-counter sleeping medication, police spokeswoman Barbara Chen said. Ledger was unresponsive when he was found by a housekeeper who had gone to wake him for an appointment with a masseuse, according to Browne. The New York Times reported that an autopsy will be conducted on Wednesday, according to a spokesperson for the office of the city’s chief medical examiner.
Ledger is survived by a 2-year-old daughter, Matilda Rose, with ex-fiancee Michelle Williams.
Ledger’s dad, Kim Ledger, made a statement about his son’s death on Australian television Tuesday. “We, Heath’s family, confirm the very tragic, untimely and accidental passing of our dearly loved son, brother and doting father of Matilda,” Kim Ledger said. “He was found peacefully asleep in his New York apartment by his housekeeper at 3:30 p.m. U.S. time. We would like to thank our friends and everyone around the world for their well wishes and kind thoughts at this time. Heath has touched so many people on so many different levels during his short life, but few had the pleasure of truly knowing him. He was a down-to-earth, generous, kind-hearted, life-loving and selfless individual who was extremely inspirational to many. Please now respect our family’s need to grieve and come to terms with our loss privately.”
“This is an unimaginable tragedy. Heath was a true artist, a deeply sensitive man, an explorer, gifted and wise beyond his years,” said Todd Haynes, who directed Ledger in the recent Bob Dylan biopic “I’m Not There” and was among many people commenting on the actor’s death . “There was no finer person on this earth.”
“My heart breaks for Heath’s family,” “I’m Not There” producer Christine Vachon said in a statement. “Heath was a wonderful artist and a lovely man.”
Named for a character in Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights,” it was perhaps fitting that Ledger, the Australian son of a teacher and a race-car driver, rocketed to fame in the neo-Shakespearean “10 Things I Hate About You” opposite Julia Stiles and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. From there he quickly rose up the Hollywood ladder in such films as “The Patriot,” “A Knight’s Tale” and “The Brothers Grimm.”
Mel Gibson, who starred alongside Ledger in “The Patriot,” remembered the young star for his promise. “I had such great hope for him. He was just taking off, and to lose his life at such a young age is a tragic loss,” Gibson said in a statement. “My thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.”
But it was in 2005 that Ledger would score his biggest acting triumph, as a homosexual cowboy in Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain.” His critically acclaimed performance as Ennis Del Mar, a Wyoming ranch hand who has an affair with an aspiring rodeo rider (Jake Gyllenhaal), earned him widespread public admiration. For his work in the film, Ledger was named Best Actor by the New York Film Critics Circle and was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Oscar.
In particular, Ledger was singled out for his decidedly “inward” performance. Del Mar spoke out of the corner of his mouth, his motions rigid and conflicted. For Ledger, the character’s journey was one of “self-realization,” he told MTV News in 2005 .
“I, as the actor playing him, took the time to investigate him and to discover what exactly his battles were. What was preventing him to express and to love? And one of the conclusions I came to was that he’s battling himself,” Ledger asserted. “Ennis, he wasn’t as self-aware as to ask himself these questions, so he didn’t really know what I knew about him.”
Amid all the lauds and pageantry, Ledger told MTV News at the conclusion of filming “Brokeback Mountain” that he hoped to use the film as a springboard to future personal growth.
“I mature as an actor as I mature as a person,” he said of his newfound acclaim. “I’m hoping to continue to evolve in both areas.”
Though he recently was one of six actors to portray Bob Dylan in “I’m Not There,” Ledger’s year was to be defined by his role as the Joker in “The Dark Knight.” After months of speculation, Ledger was awarded the role in July 2006, and while Internet chatter initially said he was miscast, the recent appearance of the first “Dark Knight” trailer had everybody from worldwide fans to comic book artists singing his praises.
In a statement released to media, Alan Horn, president and COO of Warner Bros., and Jeff Robinov, president of Warner Bros. Picture Group, said they were “devastated” by Ledger’s death.
“The studio is stunned and devastated by this tragic news. The entertainment community has lost an enormous talent. Heath was a brilliant actor and an exceptional person.”
Ledger most recently was working on the Terry Gilliam fantasy “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,” which reportedly halted production after the actor’s death.
Ledger himself sang the praises of Nick Drake , an English singer/songwriter who died in 1974 at the young age of 26; Drake is perhaps best known for his song “Pink Moon,” which was used in a Volkswagen commercial. According to a representative for the Nick Drake Estate, Ledger recently shot and edited a music video for a reissue of the artist’s song “Black Eyed Dog” (So titled because of a Winston Churchill quote describing depression as a “black dog”). The video, which has never been seen by the public, is a stark black-and-white composition, consisting mainly of the director turning the camera on himself. At the end of the video, Ledger drowns himself in a bathtub. The song “Black Eyed Dog” was the last recording Drake made before overdosing on pills.(Read what Ledger’s collaborators and admirers had to say about the actor’s unexpected death from Sundance.)
[This story was originally published at 4:51 p.m. ET on 01.22.08]