NEW YORK Heath Ledger was found dead Tuesday at a downtown Manhattan apartment, naked in bed with sleeping pills nearby, police said. The Australian-born actor was 28.
It wasn't immediately clear if Ledger had committed suicide. He had an appointment for a massage at a residence in the tony neighborhood of SoHo, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said. A housekeeper who went to let him know the massage therapist had arrived found him dead at 3:26 p.m.
A large crowd of paparazzi and gawkers gathered outside the building on an upscale block. Ledger's body was still inside, and several police officers guarded the door.
The medical examiner's office planned an autopsy Wednesday, spokeswoman Ellen Borakove said.
While not a marquee movie star, Ledger was a respected, award-winning actor who chose his roles carefully rather than cashing in on his heartthrob looks. He was nominated for an Oscar for his performance as a gay cowboy in "Brokeback Mountain," where he met Michelle Williams, who played his wife in the film. The two had a daughter, Matilda, and lived together in Brooklyn until they split up last year.
Ledger most recently appeared in "I'm Not There," in which he played one of the many incarnations of Bob Dylan as did Cate Blanchett, whose performance in that film earned an Oscar nomination Tuesday for best supporting actress.
Ledger had finished filming his role as the Joker this year in "The Dark Knight," a sequel to 2005's "Batman Begins."
He's had starring roles in "A Knight's Tale" and "The Patriot," and played the suicidal son of Billy Bob Thornton in "Monster's Ball." He also played a heroin addict in the 2006 Australian film "Candy."
Before settling down with Williams, Ledger had relationships with actresses Heather Graham and Naomi Watts. He met Watts while working on "The Lords of Dogtown," a fictionalized version of a cult classic skateboarding documentary, in 2004.
Ledger was born in 1979 in Perth, in western Australia, to a mining engineer and a French teacher, and got his first acting role playing Peter Pan at age 10 at a local theater company. He began acting in independent films as a 16-year-old in Sydney and played a cyclist hoping to land a spot on an Olympic team in a 1996 television show, "Seat."
After several independent films, Ledger moved to Los Angeles at age 19 and co-starred opposite Julia Stiles in "10 Things I Hate About You," a teen comedy reworking of "The Taming of the Shrew."
Offers for other teen flicks soon came his way, but Ledger turned them down, preferring to remain idle than sign on for projects he didn't like.
"It wasn't a hard decision for me," Ledger told the Associated Press in 2001. "It was hard for everyone else around me to understand. Agents were like, 'You're crazy,' my parents were like, 'Come on, you have to eat."'
His movie career caught on anyway, culminating with his Academy Award nomination opposite Jake Gyllenhaal in "Brokeback."
"Dark Knight" director Christopher Nolan said earlier this month that Ledger's performance as the Joker would be wildly different than Jack Nicholson's memorable turn in 1989's "Batman."
"It was a very great challenge for Heath," Nolan said. "He's extremely original, extremely frightening, tremendously edgy. A very young character, a very anarchic presence that taps into a lot of our basic fears and panic."