NEW YORK – New Yorkers clustered outside the Soho loft apartment building where Heath Ledger was found dead on Tuesday said they were "devastated" and "anguished" to learn of the tragedy.
Tamba Mossa, the superintendent of 421 Broome Street — where Ledger had lived for the past four or five months — called the "Brokeback Mountain" actor a "very great man" but said he was blindsided by the news.
"I wasn't prepared to hear about his death at that moment," Mossa told a crush of reporters at the scene. "I'm very, very sad."
But Ledger had seemed depressed recently, according to the superintendent.
"He looked sad," said Mossa.
New York City Police officers guarded the entrance of the white apartment building, which sits on a cobblestone street in the swanky SoHo section of New York City next to a Nanette Lepore boutique. Swarms of paparazzi, fans and passersby milled about on the sidewalk. One woman came carrying flowers.
The Australian-born Ledger, 28, was found dead by his housekeeper Tuesday afternoon, naked and at the foot of the bed. Sleeping pills and other medications that had been prescribed to him were discovered in the apartment, according to police.
"I'm devastated," said a young woman who lives in the neighborhood and identified herself only as Jen. "There was never any news of him being involved in anything other than his acting. I'm definitely a fan of his. This is shocking."
She said she had spotted Ledger in the area a few times while he was still with his former fiancée, actress Michelle Williams, whom he met on the set of "Brokeback Mountain" and with whom he had a 2-year-old daughter named Matilda.
The couple, who lived together with the baby in Brooklyn, broke up last year. In recent months, Ledger had been renting the SoHo apartment.
One passerby on his way home was stunned to learn of the actor's death.
"I wasn't familiar with his work, but I just feel anguished," said David M. Rheingold, 35, who works for a nonprofit. "I feel terrible for his daughter. It's horrible, just horrible."
One SoHo resident marveled at the throngs of people who had descended on the scene of Ledger's death.
"In life, he would not have drawn any kind of crowd like this," said Roark Dunn, 50, who produces photo shoots. "He's comparatively obscure."
Many of those who stopped in front of Ledger's apartment building said they admired the actor's work.
"I was moved by the movie 'Brokeback Mountain,'" said Paul Khor, 40, a fashion buyer visiting from Singapore.
Three Fordham University freshmen and self-professed Ledger fans said they came to SoHo as soon as they heard the news.
"We're sad," said Daria Tavana, 19, a playwright major. "He's somebody who recently had begun to take on really hard roles. It's totally unbelievable."
Another onlooker said he appreciated Ledger's acting and called his performance in "I'm Not There," the recent Bob Dylan film, "tortured."
"I respect him very much. He seemed like a legitimate artist," said the 28-year-old journalist, who declined to give his name but said he works in the neighborhood. "In this day and age, it's hard to get shocked about any celebrity passing, but he was a really talented actor. It's sad he's not going to be around anymore."