Actor Heath Ledger Found Dead in Manhattan Apartment at 28

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CHICAGO – Heath Ledger has been found dead in his Manhattan apartment, according to CNN. He was 28. Police sources have called the death an “accidental overdose,” according to MSNBC, and Ledger was “found naked and unconscious with pills strewn all around him”.

CNN has published the following details about his death in his Broome Street apartment:

Heath Ledger in Casanova in 2005
Heath Ledger in “Casanova” in 2005.
Photo credit: IMDb

Actor Heath Ledger was found dead [on] Tuesday of a possible drug overdose in a lower Manhattan apartment, the New York Police Department said. The Academy Award-nominated actor was 28.

“Pills were found in the vicinity of the bed,” police spokesman Paul Browne told CNN. “This is being looked at as a possible overdose.”

The pills appeared to be over-the-counter sleeping medication, said police spokeswoman Barbara Chen. Ledger was unresponsive when he was found by a housekeeper who had gone to wake him for an appointment with a masseuse in the Soho apartment, Browne said.

Ledger was declared dead at about 3:30 p.m., Browne said. In 2005, the actor played Ennis Del Mar in “Brokeback Mountain” about two cowboys who had a secret relationship. The role earned him [an] Oscar nomination.

Ledger was born in Perth, Australia. He has a young daughter with [“Brokeback Mountain” co-star] Michelle Williams. The couple separated in 2007.

Ledger’s first American film was the teen comedy “10 Things I Hate About You” in 1999 and he immediately attracted attention from Hollywood. He passed up several scripts before taking a role in the revolutionary war drama “The Patriot” in 2000 and “A Knight’s Tale” in 2001.

He also played a role in “Monster’s Ball,” “Ned Kelly,” “The Brothers Grimm,” “Lords of Dogtown,” “The Four Feathers,” “The Order,” “Candy and “Casanova”.

“In a way, I was spoon fed a career,” he told the Glasgow Herald in 2005. “It was fully manufactured by a studio that believed it could put me on their posters and turn me into a product. … I hadn’t figured out properly how to act, and all of a sudden, I was being thrown into these lead roles.”

“I felt that choices were being made for me. I feel this has been my time now to find the good stories and test myself,” Ledger told the Glasgow Herald in the 2005 interview. “It has been an interesting year where I finally have a sense of accomplishment.”

“He was just so respected in the industry,” said In Touch Weekly senior editor Kim Serafin [on Tuesday]. “It’s just horribly tragic. He was just a fine actor and a good person, so this is horribly sad and very unexpected.”

Though the New York Times initially reported on Tuesday that Ledger was found in an apartment owned by actress Mary-Kate Olsen, a spokesperson for the actress at the Sundance Film Festival later on Tuesday told the New York Times the apartment was not Olsen’s.

CNN says hordes of people, photographers and reporters congregated outside Ledger’s police-guarded apartment building after news of his death surfaced. Ledger was named Heathcliff Andrew after the main characters of Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights”.

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation said in a written statement on Tuesday that it mourns Ledger’s death and says his “Brokeback Mountain” portrayal of Del Mar “changed hearts and minds in immeasurable ways”. He began acting at a local theater as a child.

A source told MSNBC.com’s Courtney Hazlett that Ledger had been turning down roles lately.

His People biography can be found here. His IMDb filmography can be found here. Ledger is survived by daughter Matilda Rose. His death throws into disarray the upcoming films “The Dark Knight” and Terry Gilliam’s “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,” which we covered on Dec. 18, 2007.

In Nov. 2007, the New York Times published some alarming quotes from Ledger revealing behavioral tics that could be interpreted as warning signs for severe distress and anxiety:

…as often happens when he throws himself into a part, he is not sleeping much.

“Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night,” [Ledger] said. “I couldn’t stop thinking. My body was exhausted and my mind was still going.”

One night he took an Ambien, which failed to work. He took a second one and fell into a stupor only to wake up an hour later [with] his mind still racing.

Even as he spoke, Ledger was hard-pressed to keep still. He got up and poured more coffee. He stepped outside into the courtyard and smoked a cigarette.

He shook his hair out from under its hood, put a rubber band around it, took out the rubber band, put on a hat, took off the hat [and] put the hood back up. He went outside and had another cigarette.

Polite and charming, he nonetheless gave off the sense that the last thing he wanted to do was delve deep into himself for public consumption. “It can be a little distressing to have to overintellectualize yourself” is how he put it a little apologetically.

Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere said on Tuesday on his impression of Ledger from previous meetings:

He never gave me a guarded response to questions [and] was always cool about encounters. He liked to scrunch his face up instead of smile when I took his picture. He was shy, private and “moody”.

Maybe he should have allowed less of those feelings in because this is totally friggin’ ridiculous. Heath Ledger dead?

A long lifetime of great performances lay ahead for Ledger. He could have easily kept working into old age as he never gave a damn about playing hunks.

Now his life is over, his daughter is fatherless and Warner Bros. is looking at some kind of uncertain future for “The Dark Knight” [in] which Ledger plays the Joker alongside co-stars Christian Bale and Michael Caine.

We all know what Warner Bros. (the distributor of Chris Nolan’s second Batman film) is going to say about this this tragic news. They’ll say the same thing that Warner Bros. said about James Dean’s death when he was killed in a car crash in Sept. 1955 with two movies yet to open (“Rebel Without a Cause” and “Giant”).

They’ll say: “This is a very sad time for all of us and not a time for [discussing] grosses.”

But you know and I know that the [Warner Bros.] hard ballers are asking themselves right now: “Will this adversely impact ‘The Dark Knight’ box office, will it enhance it or will it have no impact?” The latter, I would think.

Despite early speculation to the contrary, a spokesman for the New York Police Department reports that there was no “obvious indication of suicide”. The pills found at the scene were reportedly sleeping pills: one a prescription medication and the other over-the-counter medication.

/Film added on the topic in its Tuesday report: “In a video interview in correlation with his press days for ‘I’m Not There,’ he seems disoriented and possibly under the influence.” An autopsy is scheduled for Wednesday.

The Hollywood Reporter added on Tuesday:

Ledger was in the middle of a break from shooting Terry Gilliam’s fantasy adventure “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” and was due back on set in Vancouver later in the week. The film’s producers were in meetings Tuesday afternoon in an effort to work around the tragedy.

“The studio is stunned and devastated by this tragic news,” Warner Bros. President Alan Horn and Warner Bros. Pictures 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 was set to appear in Baz Luhrmann’s “Australia” before dropping out to star as the Joker in “The Dark Knight”. Over at Variety on Tuesday, we hear from Focus Features (the specialty label for “Brokeback Mountain”):

A Focus representative was in shock over the news and CEO James Schamus, who co-wrote [“Brokeback Mountain”] with Ang Lee, issued a statement lamenting the loss.

“Heath Ledger was a courageous actor and a great soul,” Schamus said. “He gave us the gift of sharing his fearless and beautiful love – of his craft and of all who worked with him – for which all of us will be eternally grateful.”

As for “The Dark Knight,” Variety says Ledger’s sudden death will present difficult challenges for how to market the high-profile film going forward.

“The Joker character is dealing with chaos and life and death and a lot of dark themes,” one insider with knowledge of the [the Joker’s viral marketing] campaign said. “Everyone is going to interpret every line out of his mouth in a different way now.”

9:02 p.m. update on Jan. 22, 2008: TMZ has just reported how Ledger’s body was discovered:

Here’s the way it went down. A cleaning lady for Heath arrived at the apartment first followed soon thereafter by a masseuse. They both entered the room at around the same time and discovered Heath’s lifeless body.

The cleaning lady called police. The masseuse, we’re told, called the bodyguard for the Olsens. She called him because they’re friends and he’s an EMT. The bodyguard was around the block at Ashley’s and he immediately went over. By the time he arrived, the cops were already there.

We’re also told it appeared Heath “had been dead for a while” and there were no visible signs of trauma. There was a pill bottle on the nightstand.

Also, TMZ reported on Tuesday that Ledger recently gave an “eerily prophetic” interview to FOX in Cleveland where he said: “I feel good about dying because I feel alive through her.” He was talking about his young daughter, Matilda.

11:36 a.m. update on Jan. 23, 2008: An autopsy for Heath Ledger conducted on Wednesday morning was “inconclusive” and his cause of death will take 10 to 14 additional days, a medical examiner’s spokeswoman told CNN on Wednesday. CNN added:

Flowers, notes and a candle left by mourning fans remained on the sidewalk outside the Soho apartment building, but only journalists and the occasional tourist were gathered there Wednesday morning.

Ledger’s former girlfriend – actress Michelle Williams, who was shooting a movie in Sweden – was informed of his death late Tuesday night, a movie production company spokesman said.

Williams left early Wednesday morning with 2-year-old daughter Matilda Rose, the spokesman said.

3:31 p.m. update on Jan. 23, 2008: The production for “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” has been shut down, according to Us:

“I just got the call [on Tuesday] saying everyone was being let go,” [an] on-set source tells UsMagazine.com. “We were supposed to start this weekend, but obviously they fired everyone today. They don’t know yet what they are doing with the footage that was already shot.”

Discuss this on our discussion boards here.

HollywoodChicago.com editor-in-chief Adam Fendelman

By ADAM FENDELMAN
Editor-in-Chief
HollywoodChicago.com
adam@hollywoodchicago.com

Dustin's picture

Age?

Details are so sketchy on this.

I’m seeing reports he was 28 (though 27 does have that rockstar overdose touch to it).

Dustin's picture

There were pills found at

There were pills found at the scene.

HollywoodChicago.com's picture

Link?

According to which news story?

Dustin's picture

Most of the articles say

Most of the articles say 28. See here. Newsday is also saying there were sleeping pills found by the bed.

Dustin's picture

He had some good stuff

He had some good stuff coming up. See here. This article also links him to Lindsay Lohan.

Dustin's picture

According to the New York

According to the New York Times, Ledger was found naked and unconscious with pills strewn all around him in an apartment owned by actress Mary-Kate Olsen.

HollywoodChicago.com's picture

New York Times correction

A spokesperson has corrected the New York Times article and says the apartment was not owned by Mary-Kate Olsen.

Dustin's picture

Good follow up and nice

Good follow up and nice write up. Stuff is coming out from the woodwork in terms of speculation.

HollywoodChicago.com's picture

Updates: history of distress, but no indication of suicide

See our news story above for some updates to this story.

First of all, we learn of a Nov. 2007 article in the New York Times where Ledger reveal some alarming quotes that could be interpreted as warning signs for severe distress and anxiety.

Second, the New York Police Department now reports that there was no “obvious indication of suicide”.

HollywoodChicago.com's picture

Heath Ledger's nervous ways remind me of Billy Bob Thornton

In response to this quote from above:

Quote:
Even as he spoke, Ledger was hard-pressed to keep still. He got up and poured more coffee. He stepped outside into the courtyard and smoked a cigarette. He shook his hair out from under its hood, put a rubber band around it, took out the rubber band, put on a hat, took off the hat [and] put the hood back up. He went outside and had another cigarette.

This reminds me of my interview with Billy Bob Thornton for “The Astronaut Farmer”. I got a very similar sense from him.

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