Heath Ledger, only months after filming his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight, was found at 3:31 in the afternoon by his masseuse and housekeeper. He was naked and unconscious on the floor at the foot of his bed at 421 Broome Street in SoHo, Manhattan. There were prescription and nonprescription pills scattered all about yet there was no note. He was only 28 and by 6:30 pm, city workers rolled Heath’s body, enclosed in a black body bag, out of the building. Authorities did not suspect a crime but the big question was whether it was accidental or a suicide.
Heath Ledger was born to a French teacher, Kim Ledger, and a racecar driver and mining engineer in Perth, Australia. His parents divorced when he was 11. An avid chess player, Ledger won Western Australia’s junior chess championship at 10. While living in New York as an adult, he would often play chess in Washington Square Park.
When Heath was 16, he took a part in Clowning Around and Sweat, both television series out of Perth. His first Hollywood film was the teenage romantic comedy 10 things I Hate About You (1999). He also had romantic roles in the films A Knight’s Tale (2001) and Casanova (2005).
The role that brought Heath Ledger to the forefront for American audiences was in Brokeback Mountain (2005), where he played Ennis Del Mar, a man who has a love affair with rodeo rider Jack Twist, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. This role earned him a nomination for an Oscar for Best Actor in 2006. It was while filming Brokeback Mountain that Heath met Michelle Williams. They became a couple, and had daughter Matilda Rose while residing in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. They broke up in 2007, and Ledger was then linked to supermodels Helena Christensen and Gemma Ward, and with former child stars Mary-Kate Olsen and Lindsay Lohan.
The weeks preceding Heath’s death are clouded in mystery as there are divergent accounts of his behavior. The day after Ledger’s death, the UK tabloidThe Sun quoted Rebecca White, who was a 33-year-old former assistant to Naomi Campbell. She reported to have witnessed Ledger taking drugs. “The first time I met him, at Puff Daddy’s house in Los Angeles, Heath asked Naomi for cocaine,” she noted. “At another party in Paris, Heath took at least six Ecstasy pills, popped them in his mouth all at once, and swigged them with a bottle of Champagne.”
White elaborated on her claims during an interview with England’s Daily Mail, saying that Ledger’s drug use had recently spiraled out of control because of concerns that he might lose custody of his daughter, and added this cutting comment about Ledger’s former fiancée, Michelle Williams: “Heath was an Adonis and she was dowdy and not in his league-career-wise or looks-wise-and no one could understand why they got together.” These comments were picked up by dozens of other publications.
There is also rumored to be a video first acquired by Australia’s Channel 9 of Ledger allegedly doing coke.
Contrarily, a New York woman who dated Heath from late September through mid-November never saw Ledger do drugs. “He had a party at his loft once, and it was really crazy. There were drugs there, but he didn’t touch them. I saw it offered to him multiple times. Ecstasy, cocaine, even prescription stuff-but he never touched it. I was with him at least a dozen times, and he was always sober. Just cigarettes.”
Heath did have trouble sleeping. In a New York Times interview, Ledger told reporter Sarah Lyall that his recent demanding roles inI’m Not There and The Dark Knight had negatively affected his ability to sleep: “Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night…I couldn’t stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going.” He stated he had taken two Ambien pills, after taking just one had not sufficed, and those left him in “a stupor, only to wake up an hour later, his mind still racing.”
Following his death, Ledger’s former fiancée Michelle Williams also confirmed reports of Ledger’s sleep troubles: “For as long as I’d known him, he had bouts with insomnia. He had too much energy. His mind was turning, turning, turning-always turning.”
Two pictures of Heath emerge: one of a loving, hip father who had trouble sleeping, and the other of a drug-crazed Aussie party boy.
There appears to be something bothering Heath in this interview from 2007, where he appears excessively twitchy and thin. Watch it and draw your own conclusions.
What killed Heath Ledger? On February 6, 2008, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of New York made its report public, concluding, “Mr. Heath Ledger died as the result of acute intoxication by the combined effects of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam and doxylamine.” It states definitively: “We have concluded that the manner of death is accident, resulting from the abuse of prescription medications.” While the medications found in the toxicological analysis may be prescribed in the United States for insomnia, anxiety, pain, or common cold (doxylamine) symptoms, the vast majority of physicians in the US are very reluctant to prescribe multiple benzodiazepines to a single patient (eg, diazepam, alprazolam, and temazepam). And this was a patient who was already taking OxyContin and Vicodin.
So in laymen’s terms, Ledger took Xanax, Valium, Unisom, Restoril, Vicodin, OxyContin-two downers, two sleeping pills, and two painkillers of a strength used for bone cancer. This would definitely lead to acute intoxication.
Ledger’s parents cited the pharmaceutical drugs as proof that their son was the victim of a simple prescription drug mix-up. “Today’s results put an end to speculation,” they wrote in a statement. “While no medications were taken in excess, we learned today the combination of doctor-prescribed drugs proved lethal for our boy.”
In the end, Heath Ledger’s official cause of death was a toxicological list. Much like the many tales of his life, we will never know the real answer-accidental or deliberate.
- Actor Heath Ledger dies at 28. CNN.com. January 22, 2008. http://www.cnn.com/2008/SHOWBIZ/Movies/01/22/heath.ledger.dead/.
- Heath Ledger. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heath_Ledger.
- Norris C. Untitled Heath Ledger project. New York Magazine. February 18, 2008. http://nymag.com/news/features/44217/.
- Sewell C. The death of Heath Ledger. New York Times. January 22, 2008. http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/01/22/actor-heath-ledger-is-found-dead/.