Accidental drugs overdose killed Heath Ledger

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The Independent US

The death of the Brokeback Mountain star Heath Ledger was a tragic accident, the result of a cocktail of painkillers, sleeping pills and anxiety drugs, a medical examiner has ruled.

Grieving fans, family and colleagues have had to wait two weeks since the 28-year-old Australian actor was found dead in his Manhattan apartment before hearing a conclusive verdict, all the while trying to damp down speculation about his last hours and about whether he deliberately took his own life.

But toxicology tests released yesterday revealed that he had accidentally overdosed on a combination of prescription medicines taken as he fought anxiety and insomnia.

"While no medications were taken in excess, we have learnt the combination of doctor-prescribed drugs proved lethal for our boy," said the actor's father, Kim, in a statement released through Ledger's publicist. "Heath's accidental death serves as a caution to the hidden dangers of combining prescription medication, even at low dosage. The results put an end to speculation, but our son's beautiful spirit and enduring memory will forever remain in our hearts."

The actor had complained of being stressed and unable to sleep after finishing back-to-back filming of I'm Not There, the Bob Dylan biopic, and Dark Knight, the new Batman movie due out in the summer in which he plays the Joker. Fellow actors said he had also been missing his young daughter Matilda Rose. He moved into the apartment where he died after splitting up with his girlfriend, the actress Michelle Williams. "What you're looking at here is the cumulative effects of these medications together," Ellen Borakove of the New York City medical examiner's office said yesterday.

The cause of death was acute intoxication due to the combined effects of painkillers, anti-anxiety drugs and sleeping pills.

Ledger was found on 22 January by his masseuse, who arrived for an afternoon appointment. The actor was naked in bed and unresponsive, prompting his housekeeper to call a friend and then the emergency services.

An autopsy the following day failed to establish a definitive cause of death. Police reported at the time that they had found a variety of prescription and non-prescription medicines at the apartment, and a rolled up $20 note, but no illegal drugs.

The pavement outside the apartment remains a shrine to the star, two weeks on, as fans have left candles, flowers and notes.

Ledger's family returned earlier this week to Perth to plan a private funeral in the next few days.

Hollywood stars including Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Sienna Miller and Ellen DeGeneres attended a private memorial service in Los Angeles at the weekend. Ledger started his acting career in the Australian soap Home and Away, but it was his role as a closeted gay cowboy in Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain which confirmed the star was one of the most promising actors of his generation. The role earned him an Oscar nomination in 2006.

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