January 23, 2008 in Nation/World

Ledger, 28, found dead; sleeping pills nearby

Tom Hays Associated Press
Associated Press photo

This image provided by Focus Features shows actor Heath Ledger portraying Ennis Del Mar in “Brokeback Mountain.” Associated Press
(Full-size photo)

NEW YORK – Heath Ledger, the talented 28-year-old actor who gravitated toward dark, brooding roles that defied his leading-man looks, was found dead Tuesday in a Manhattan apartment, facedown at the foot of his bed with prescription sleeping pills nearby, police said.

There was no obvious indication that the Australian-born Ledger had committed suicide, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said.

Ledger had an appointment for a massage at the SoHo apartment that is believed to be the home of the “Brokeback Mountain” actor, Browne said. The massage therapist and a housekeeper found his naked body about 3:30 p.m. They tried to revive him, but he was already dead.

Outside the Manhattan building on an upscale street, paparazzi and gawkers gathered, and several police officers put up barricades to control the crowd of about 300. Onlookers craned their necks as officers brought out a black bodybag on a gurney, took it across the sidewalk and put it into a medical examiner’s office van.

As the door opened, bystanders snapped pictures with camera phones, rolled video and said, “He’s coming out!”

An autopsy was planned for today, medical examiner’s office spokeswoman Ellen Borakove said.

While not a marquee star, Ledger was an award-winning actor who chose his roles carefully rather than cashing in on big-money parts. He was nominated for an Oscar for his performance as a gay cowboy in “Brokeback Mountain.” During filming, he met Michelle Williams, who played his wife in the film. The two had a daughter, now 2-year-old Matilda, and lived together in Brooklyn until they split up last year.

It was a shocking and unforeseen conclusion for one of Hollywood’s bright young stars. Though his leading man looks propelled him to early stardom in films like “10 Things I Hate About You” and “A Knight’s Tale,” his career took a notable turn toward dramatic and brooding roles with 2001’s “Monster’s Ball.”

Ledger eschewed Hollywood glitz in favor of a bohemian life in Brooklyn, where he became one of the borough’s most famous residents. “Brokeback” would be his breakthrough role, establishing him as one of his generation’s finest talents and an actor willing to take risks.

Ledger began to gravitate more toward independent fare, including Lasse Hallstrom’s “Casanova” and Terry Gilliam’s “The Brothers Grimm,” both released in 2005.

But Ledger’s most recent choices were arguably the boldest yet: He costarred in “I’m Not There,” in which he played one of the many incarnations of Bob Dylan.

And in what may be his final finished performance, Ledger proved that he wouldn’t be intimidated by taking on a character as iconic as Jack Nicholson’s Joker. Ledger’s version of the “Batman” villain, glimpsed in early teaser trailers, made it clear that his Joker would be more depraved and dark.

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