Heath Ledger found dead in a New York apartment; possible O.D. on sleeping pills
Updated 1:14 a.m.: Heath Ledger, who won an Oscar nomination for best actor for his role in Brokeback Mountain, was found dead in a Manhattan apartment on Tuesday. Signs point to suicide or an accidental overdose, police said.
The New York Times' City Room blog says a masseuse arrived at Apartment 5A on 421 Broome Street in SoHo with an appointment with Ledger. A housekeeper let the masseuse in and found Ledger naked and unconscious on a bed in the bedroom around 3:30 p.m., the AP says. They moved him to the floor and tried to revive him.
When he didn't wake up, they called police, who found both prescription and non-prescription sleeping pills on the nightstand, the New York Times reported. Ledger was pronounced dead at 3:35 p.m. He was 28.
"We are investigating the possibility of an overdose," NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said. Ledger was pronounced dead at 3:35 p.m. A spokeswoman for the city's chief medical examiner said an autopsy would be conducted today. TMZ says the actor had been sick with pneumonia.
Ledger told the New York Times in a November interview that he had trouble sleeping while portraying the Joker in the Batman Begins sequel The Dark Knight, which is supposed to be released on July 18.
"Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night," Ledger told the newspaper. "I couldn't stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going." He said he took two Ambien pills, which only worked for an hour.
Initial reports said the apartment belonged to Mary-Kate Olsen, but her representative, Annette Wolf, denied the claim to the New York Times. “It is not her apartment,” Wolf said. “She does not own the apartment. She has never owned the apartment. She and her sister have an apartment in New York City but they are not in this building.”
The apartment was sold in 1999 to Red Tulip, L.L.C., City Room says. Calls to a number for Junia Hissa Neiva, a Brazilian painter who is listed as an owner of the company, were received by a full answering machine.
It was not apparent why or how long Ledger had been in the apartment. A spokeswoman for the city's chief medical examiner said an autopsy would be conducted Wednesday, City Room says.
The Times quoted Julie McIntosh, a hair stylist in the area, as saying she though Leder had lived in the area for a few months, and saw him a couple times a week. “I think it’s really sad,” she said. “He’s a really nice guy. He seemed happy.”
The Ledger family released the following statement on Australian TV:
"We, Heath's family, confirm, the very tragic, untimely and accidental passing of our dearly loved son, brother and doting father of Matilda. 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 families need to grieve and come to terms with our loss privately."
Ledger rose to prominence in 2000's The Patriot with Mel Gibson and a turn in 2001's Monster's Ball before playing opposite Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain. The movie, based on a short story by Annie Proulx, featured Ledger and Gyllenhaal as cowboys unable to resist falling in love.
Ledger said in a 2006 interview with Rolling Stone that he had no qualms about kissing a man on screen, nor fears that he'd fail to conjure up the feelings of a man coming to grips with his homosexuality. "Look, I've experienced love," Ledger said. "I know how to love a woman. But part of the magic of acting is, you harness the infinite power of belief."
He also landed starring roles in 2001's A Knight's Tale and 2005's Casanova. His latest was as one of several incarnations of Bob Dylan in the musician's biopic I'm not There.
He plays the Joker in Batman Begins sequel The Dark Knight (right), which was supposed to be released on July 18. He was currently filming The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus with Terry Gilliam, according to IMDB.com.
Hollywood stars began to express the tragedy of Ledger's death late Tuesday. "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."
Fellow Aussie and close friend Nicole Kidman echoed the sentiment, releasing a statement that read, "What a tragedy. My heart goes out to his family."
Born April 4, 1979 to a French teacher and an engineer, Ledger grew up in Perth, Australia, and began doing amateur theater at age 10, the AP reports. At 16, he moved to Sydney to pursue an acting career, quickly landing TV movie roles and guest spots on Australian television.
In September he and fiancee (and Brokeback co-star) Michelle Williams called off their engagement. They have a 2-year-old daughter, Matilda Rose. TMZ reported Williams was "devastated" by the news and flew back to New York when she heard the news.
“They were very nice, with their daughter," Elise Harris, a neighbor to Williams and Ledger when they lived together in Brooklyn, told the Times. "I think shock is the reaction. I didn’t even know he was on drugs, but that’s the kind of thing you don’t know unless you are in that circle. He was a nice guy, attractive, very friendly.”
Before settling down with Williams, Ledger had relationships with Heather Graham and Naomi Watts. In recent weeks, he had been dating Australian model Gemma Ward. They were seen together in Perth during the holiday season.
[Photos: Getty Images, AP]