NEW YORK – Oscar-nominee Heath Ledger was found dead Tuesday at his downtown Manhattan residence, face-down and naked at the foot of his bed with prescription sleeping pills in the apartment, police said. The Australian-born actor was 28.
There was no obvious indication of suicide or foul play, said NYPD spokesman Paul Browne.
"We are all deeply saddened and shocked by this accident," Ledger's publicist, Mara Buxbaum, said in a statement Tuesday night. "This is an extremely difficult time for his loved ones and we are asking the media to please respect the family's privacy and avoid speculation until the facts are known."
His father, mother and sister in Australia also expressed their shock at the actor's "untimely and accidental" death in a statement for Seven Network, The Associated Press reported.
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Ledger was found at his apartment at 421 Broome Street in the SoHo section of New York City and was pronounced dead at 3:35 p.m. EST, NYPD spokeswoman Stephanie Jaramillo told FOXNews.com.
The "Brokeback Mountain" actor had an appointment for a massage at the residence in the tony SoHo neighborhood, Browne said. A housekeeper who went to let him know the masseuse had arrived and the massage therapist found his naked body in the bed at about 3:30 p.m. They tried to revive him, but he was already dead.
FOLLOWING IS A N-Y-P-D NEWS RELEASE ON TODAY'S SITUATION INVOLVING HEATH LEDGER: ON TUESDAY, 01/22/08, AT APPROXIMATELY 1530 HOURS, IN THE CONFINES OF THE 5 PRECINCT, POLICE RESPONDED TO 421 BROOME STREET AND FOUND A M/W/28 UNCONSCIOUS. THE VICTIM WAS PRONOUNCED DOA AT THE SCENE. M.E.'S OFFICE TO DETERMINE THE CAUSE OF DEATH. INVESTIGATION CONTINUES.
NYPD spokeswoman Jaramillo declined to comment on the cause of death, saying only that "the investigation is still ongoing."
The medical examiner's office planned an autopsy Wednesday, spokeswoman Ellen Borakove said.
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Ledger's apartment is listed as a three-bedroom SoHo loft with a rent of $23,000, according to real estate broker Corcoran.
Outside the building on an upscale street, paparazzi and gawkers gathered, and several police officers put up barricades to control the crowd of about 300. Onlookers craned their necks as officers brought out a black body bag on a gurney, took it across the sidewalk and put it into a white medical examiner's office van.
As the door opened, bystanders snapped pictures with camera phones, rolled video and said, "He's coming out!"
The superintendent of the building, Tamba Mossa, told reporters that Ledger had lived there for four or five months, and that he recently "looked sad."
"I'm very, very sad. I wasn't prepared to hear about his death at that moment. He was a very great man," Mossa said.
The actor was nominated for an Oscar for his performance as a gay cowboy in "Brokeback Mountain," where he met his former fiancée, "Dawson's Creek" actress Michelle Williams, in 2005. Ledger and Williams had a 2-year-old daughter, Matilda, and lived in Brooklyn until they split up last year.
Ledger was often seen with Matilda in his new Manhattan neighborhood, where he used to shop at a home and children's store.
Michelle Vella, an employee there, said she had frequently seen Ledger with his daughter — carrying the toddler on his shoulders, or having ice cream with her.
"It's so sad. They were really close," said Vella. "He's a very down-to-earth guy and an amazing father."
Ledger most recently appeared in "I'm Not There," in which he played one of the many incarnations of Bob Dylan.
WJW FOX 8 News in Cleveland interviewed Ledger in Nov. 2007 when he was promoting "I'm Not There." In the interview, he told FOX: "Being a dad changes your perspective — I don't want to die young."
Ledger also told The New York Times in a November interview that he "stressed out a little too much" during the Dylan film, and had trouble sleeping while portraying the Joker, whom he called a "psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy."
"Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night," Ledger told the newspaper. "I couldn't stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going." He said he took two Ambien pills, which only worked for an hour, the paper said.
His other roles include the suicidal son of Billy Bob Thornton in "Monster's Ball," a heroin addict in the 2006 Australian film "Candy" and starring turns in "A Knight's Tale" and "The Patriot."
Mel Gibson, Ledger's co-star in "The Patriot," said in a statement: "I had such great hope for him. He was just taking off and to lose his life at such a young age is a tragic loss. My thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.”
Ledger finished filming his role as the Joker this year in "The Dark Knight," a sequel to 2005's "Batman Begins."
In what may be his final finished performance, Ledger proved that he wouldn't be intimidated by taking on a character as iconic as Jack Nicholson's Joker. Ledger's version of the "Batman" villain, glimpsed in early teaser trailers, made it clear that his Joker would be more depraved and dark.
Curiosity about Ledger's final performance will likely stoke further interest in the summer blockbuster. "Dark Knight" director Christopher Nolan said earlier this month that Ledger's Joker would be wildly different from Nicholson's.
"It was a very great challenge for Heath," Nolan said. "He's extremely original, extremely frightening, tremendously edgy. A very young character, a very anarchic presence that taps into a lot of our basic fears and panic."
Michael Bodey, film reporter for The Australian, told FOXNews.com that in Australia, it is "equal parts shock and dismay, a waste of talent."
“He was one of the most interesting and intriguing actors to interview. He was a talented actor only now beginning to hit his stride ... Hollywood got a hold of him too early and tried to make him into something he didn’t want to be."
Before settling down with Williams, Ledger had relationships with actresses Heather Graham and Naomi Watts. He met Watts while working on "The Lords of Dogtown," a fictionalized version of a cult classic skateboarding documentary, in 2004.
Recently, he was rumored to have flirted with model Helena Christensen.
Ledger was born in 1979 in Perth, in western Australia, to a mining engineer and a French teacher, and got his first acting role playing Peter Pan at age 10 at a local theater company. He began acting in independent films as a 16-year-old in Sydney and played a cyclist hoping to land a spot on an Olympic team in a 1996 television show, "Seat."
After several independent films, Ledger moved to Los Angeles at age 19 and co-starred opposite Julia Stiles in "10 Things I Hate About You," a teen comedy reworking of "The Taming of the Shrew."
While not a marquee movie star, Ledger was a respected, award-winning actor who took his craft seriously rather than cashing in on his heartthrob looks.
Offers for other teen flicks came his way, but Ledger turned them down, preferring to remain idle than sign on for projects he didn't like.
"It wasn't a hard decision for me," Ledger told The Associated Press in 2001. "It was hard for everyone else around me to understand. Agents were like, 'You're crazy,' my parents were like, 'Come on, you have to eat."'
The Associated Press contributed to this report.