Ledger's death still shrouded in mystery

After inconclusive autopsy, family face agonising wait for toxicology test. By Susie Mesure and Ida Bergstrom

Sunday 27 January 2008 01:00
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The one question on the minds of Heath Ledger's family as they flew in to New York to collect the 28-year-old Australian actor's body this weekend was: "Why"? Five days after the Oscar-nominated Brokeback Mountain star was found dead in his Manhattan apartment, they and his bereft fans are still no nearer knowing the cause of a death that has rocked the film world.

Hollywood greats have queued up to pay tribute to Ledger, along with the Australian Prime Minister and, most poignantly, his family. From Cate Blanchett to Ang Lee, Nicole Kidman to John Travolta, the collective outpourings of grief make heartbreaking reading.

Lee, who directed Brokeback Mountain, said working with the actor was "one of the purest joys of my life", while the actor's father, Kim, lamented his "tragic" and "accidental" death and the fact that the pair would play no more chess games together. The family will bury him in his hometown of Perth and plan to hold a memorial service in Los Angeles.

Although US authorities suspect a drug overdose, an autopsy last Wednesday proved inconclusive, leaving his family on tenterhooks about the findings of toxicology and tissue tests, which are not expected until the end of this week at the earliest. The fact that the body was discovered by his masseuse, who opted to first call Mary-Kate Olsen – the actress thought to have been dating Ledger since his split last September from his partner Michelle Williams – and not the emergency services, has fuelled speculation. Revelations that the masseuse, Diana Wolozin, initially lied to the police, telling them she called Olsen twice when phone records show she rang the actress four times have deepened the mystery.

A rolled-up $20 bill was found by his bed, as were a selection of sleeping pills and prescription drugs, including antidepressants, but no illegal substances. There was no suicide note.

Ledger leaves behind a two-year-old daughter, whom he "loved dearly", according her grandfather, Larry Williams. He also bequeaths to Tinseltown logistical and promotional nightmares for the producers of his most recent projects. To director Terry Gilliam, Ledger leaves a film just one-third of the way into shooting. And to Warner Bros, behind the latest Batman instalment The Dark Knight, in which Ledger plays the Joker, the actor's death poses vast marketing problems – how to advertise one of this summer's biggest releases without appearing to be cashing in on the tragedy.

For Gilliam, his $30m Faustian fantasy The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was to play heavily on Ledger's star power, which according to reports helped Gilliam to raise the funding. Shooting has been shut down while producers work out what to do. Flops, troubled shoots and pulled projects earned Gilliam the nickname "Captain Chaos", provoking this lament three years ago: "I know there is a God and he hates me."

Ledger's sudden death must have left his family feeling much the same way.

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