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'Brokeback Mountain' star Heath Ledger found dead in New York

NEW YORK - Heath Ledger was found dead Tuesday at a downtown Manhattan apartment, and police said drugs may have been a factor. The Australian-born actor was 28.

Police said Ledger was naked in his bed with an unknown number of sleeping pills near his body.

Ledger had an appointment for a massage at a residence in the tiny SoHo neighborhood, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said. A housekeeper who went to let him know the massage therapist had arrived found him dead at 3:26 p.m.

A large crowd of paparazzi and gawkers began gathering Tuesday evening outside the building on an upscale block, where several police officers guarded the door. The medical examiner's office planned an autopsy today, spokeswoman Ellen Borakove said.

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. He was nominated for an Oscar for his performance as a gay cowboy in 'Brokeback Mountain,' where he met Michelle Williams, who played his wife in the film. The two had a daughter, Matilda, and lived together in Brooklyn until they split up last year.

Ledger most recently appeared in 'I'm Not There,' in which he played one of the many incarnations of Bob Dylan - as did Cate Blanchett, whose performance in that film earned an Oscar nomination Tuesday for best supporting actress.

Ledger had finished filming his role as the Joker this year in 'The Dark Knight,' a sequel to 2005's 'Batman Begins.'

He's had starring roles in 'A Knight's Tale' and 'The Patriot,' and played the suicidal son of Billy Bob Thornton in 'Monster's Ball.' He also played a heroin addict in the 2006 Australian film 'Candy.'

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.

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.