In his short career, he was nominated for an Oscar and became one of Hollywood's hot under-30 stars.
NEW YORK - Heath Ledger, the Australian-born actor whose breakthrough role as a gay cowboy in the 2005 movie "Brokeback Mountain" earned him an Oscar nomination and comparisons to the likes of Marlon Brando, was found dead Tuesday in an apartment in Manhattan with prescription sleeping pills near his body, the police said. He was 28.
Ledger was found naked on the floor by a bed in the apartment, which he rented in SoHo, said police spokesman Paul Browne. Browne said the police did not suspect foul play.
An autopsy is to be conducted today.
Ledger, who had become one of Hollywood's hottest under-30 stars, was a familiar figure in the neighborhood after moving there following his break-up with actress Michelle Williams, with whom he had a daughter, now 2.
Ledger was found around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday when a masseuse arrived at the apartment for an appointment with Ledger. A housekeeper let the woman in, and the police were called when the two found him in the bedroom and could not revive him.
Heathcliff Andrew Ledger was born on April 4, 1979, in Perth, Australia, where he performed in theater and on a TV series before moving to Los Angeles. His first Hollywood film was the teenage romantic comedy "10 Things I Hate About You." He passed up other roles in teen films.
The payoff came with a successful audition for the Mel Gibson film "The Patriot," in which he played Gibson's rebellious son. He later appeared in "A Knight's Tale" and "Monster's Ball" in 2001, and in four films released in 2005: "Lords of Dogtown," "Casanova," "The Brothers Grimm" and "Brokeback Mountain," the cowboy romance that established him as a major star.
"Ledger magically and mysteriously disappears beneath the skin of his lean, sinewy character," the critic Stephen Holden wrote in the New York Times. "It is a great screen performance, as good as the best of Marlon Brando and Sean Penn."
Ledger was nominated for an Academy Award for best actor, but it went to Philip Seymour Hoffman for "Capote."
Ledger met Williams while filming "Brokeback Mountain." They began a romance and moved to Brooklyn, where their comings and goings were widely noted in the New York tabloids. Williams gave birth to their daughter, Matilda Rose, on Oct. 28, 2005.
More recently, Ledger had earned plaudits for playing a moody actor evoking an aspect of Bob Dylan's multi-tiered legend in Todd Haynes' "I'm Not There."
Ledger's death shook Warner Brothers, which is scheduled to release his next film on July 18 -- "The Dark Knight," a sequel to "Batman Begins." Ledger plays the Joker, a psychotic bank robber. The studio had already started to roll out a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign.