NEW YORK — The block surrounding the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home, where Heath Ledger's body was being held for a private viewing on Friday, was a mass of photographers, police officers, satellite trucks and confused-looking passersby. Many were hoping to catch a glimpse of Ledger's parents, who had reportedly flown in from their native Australia to view the body of their son, who died on Tuesday.
Each black sedan that pulled up to the building was greeted with the pop of flashbulbs and a rush of paparazzi, but Ledger's parents were not seen (there were other viewings taking place at the home). At around 4 p.m., a large pine casket was carried from the funeral home's side entrance by several attendants, and placed into a waiting hearse. NYPD officers told MTV News that the casket contained Ledger's body, but would not confirm where the hearse was heading. According to several reports, its destination was an area airport, where the actor's body would then be flown back to his hometown of Perth, Australia.
On Saturday, private memorials were reportedly held in Beverly Hills, California, and New York. People.com reported that a small group of black-dressed mourners, including actress Naomi Watts, was seen in the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel on Saturday evening; Australia's Channel 7 reported that a 30-minute service was also held at Westwood Village Memorial Park, during which Watts was "visibly upset."
Earlier in the day, a message from the actor's father, Kim Ledger, was read by Australian Consul-General John Olsen to approximately 1,000 guests at an event in New York, according to Melbourne, Australia-based newspaper The Age.
"Heath did not become an actor for the fame or fortune. He loved his craft and he loved helping his friends. He loved chess and skateboarding too," said the letter, which was read at an event celebrating the end of the two-week G'Day USA/ Australia Week festival. "My image of Heath in New York is him with his skateboard, a canvas bag and his beanie. That was Heath to me.
Heath is, and always will be, an Australian."
On Friday, outside the apartment building where Ledger died, smaller memorials were taking place.
"He was a star on the screen, now he's a star in heaven," said 63-year-old Lucille Lozada, just moments after leaving a half-dozen yellow roses on the sidewalk. "I hope he rests in peace."
She kissed her fingertips and slowly planted them on a tribute poster of the actor that read, "Heathcliff Ledger dies young, but love is immortal."
She then pulled a sheet of lyrics from her pocket and, in a quivering whisper of a voice, sang Bill Withers' 1972 song "Lean on Me."
Outside the building, flowers, candles, and handmade tributes blanketed the sidewalk as mourners paid their respects and passersby stopped to observe the makeshift memorial. A brand-new copy of Emily Brontë's novel "Wuthering Heights" — which inspired Ledger's first name — was among the items here.
Lozada said her favorite Ledger film is "A Knight's Tale." She's also an artist. "I think I'm going to do a portrait of him." After a brief, emotional moment of reflection, she lit some candles and said she was going home.
A poem posted outside the apartment building read:
"For Heath: (from a fellow 28 yr old Aussie actor) A beautiful person,/ A gifted soul./ You brought talent & heart/ To every role./ You'll be so missed/ Now you're gone .../ But in our movies and memories/ You will always live on."
In Brooklyn that morning, the scene outside the house where the Ledger and Michelle Williams had lived with their daughter, Matilda Rose, was quieter. A smattering of paparazzi waited outside the house; actress Busy Phillips, along with family and friends, was reportedly inside.
Tributes outside the house included these:
"Let god take u into his arms. 1 love.
- Marco Castillo, Cris Castillo"
"I served you Food at Brawta. Your Favorite. Jerk Chicken."
A couple of blocks away from the house is a Caribbean restaurant called the Brawta Caribbean Café. Restaurant owner Jennifer Ewers said Ledger was a regular. He would sit at a table near the window, where he enjoyed his usual order of jerk chicken, rice and peas, and steamed cabbage. She said he also would order sorrel, a sweet, red drink that Ledger had grown to like after a waitress recommended it. Ledger and his 2-year-old daughter used to play hide-and-seek outside the restaurant.
"He was always pleasant, always smiling," Ewers said. "He would walk down the street like a normal person. He was just a guy in the neighborhood.
"He [was] a gracious man. All the neighborhood, they'll all tell you."
For more on Heath Ledger's tragic passing, read reactions from his peers and other admirers, as well as casting directors he worked with. Also, watch Ledger talk about his evolution as an actor in a 2005 interview with MTV News.
[This story was originally published at 7:05 pm E.T. on 01.25.2008]