Lawsuit says paparazzi gave Heath Ledger drugs

Fri Apr 11, 2008 11:34pm EDT
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A lawsuit filed on Friday against a Hollywood photo agency says two of its paparazzi supplied actor Heath Ledger with cocaine so they could secretly videotape him snorting the drug in a hotel room two years ago.

The suit says footage of the Ledger encounter, a portion of which aired briefly on two U.S. television shows days after his death in January -- prompting an outcry in Hollywood -- was sold to media outlets around the world, some in Britain and his native Australia.

The lawsuit claims the video has generated more than $1 million in revenues that should be forfeited under a California state law that requires paparazzi to disgorge any profits obtained through illegal activity.

Best known for his Oscar-nominated role as a conflicted gay cowboy in the 2005 movie "Brokeback Mountain," Ledger died of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs in his New York apartment on January 22.

The suit accuses the Los Angeles-area Splash News & Picture Agency of paying for cocaine that was allegedly used in 2006 by two of its photographers to entice Ledger, widely reported to have struggled with substance abuse, into being surreptitiously filmed using drugs.

The incident occurred on January 29, 2006, at the Chateau Marmont hotel on Hollywood's Sunset Strip, where Ledger was attending an "after-party" following his winning of the Screen Actors Guild Award for "Brokeback Mountain."

"This is bad stuff. You don't give drug addicts drugs so you can then tape them," said Douglas Johnson, an attorney for the plaintiff, who is named in the suit only as Jane Doe, a former freelance reporter for People magazine.

The suit describes her as an unwitting accomplice of the two photographers, one of whom she was dating at the time.   Continued...

<p>A photograph of Heath Ledger from the movie "Brokeback Mountain" rests among flowers at a makeshift memorial in front of the building where the actor died in New York January 23, 2008. REUTERS/Nicholas Roberts</p>