NEW YORK (Reuters) - The sudden death of film star Heath Ledger stunned fans and family from Hollywood to Australia on Wednesday as New York City’s medical examiner conducted an autopsy that proved inconclusive.
Ledger, a 28-year-old Australian, was found on Tuesday face down and naked beneath the covers of his bed with sleeping pills and other prescription medication nearby, police said.
“The autopsy was finished and the cause of death for Mr. Ledger will be pending further study,” said Ellen Borakove, spokeswoman for the medical examiner.
She said results would be released in 10 to 14 days, after tissue and toxicology tests.
Police said the death may have been accidental. There were sleeping and anti-anxiety pills by the bed but no illegal drugs in the apartment, no suicide note and no evidence of foul play, spokesman Paul Browne said.
A rolled up $20 bill was found but there was no visible residue that it was used to snort drugs, Browne said. Brown previously said Ledger was found on the floor but that he was actually moved from the bed to the floor by paramedics.
Ledger was best known for playing a gay cowboy in 2005’s “Brokeback Mountain,” for which he received an Oscar nomination. He had completed filming his role as The Joker in “The Dark Knight,” a Batman film due out this year.
Ledger’s family in Perth, Australia, called his death a tragic accident and appealed for privacy to let them grieve.
His former companion, Michelle Williams, a co-star in “Brokeback Mountain” and mother of their 2-year-old daughter, Matilda, was flying back to New York from Sweden, the New York Daily News reported.
The couple split in September and Ledger moved from their Brooklyn home to an apartment in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan, where fans built a shrine of flowers and candles at the front door and a battery of television trucks stood guard.
“You gave us Aussies of our generation hope that we can be big in spite of humble beginnings back at home,” said a note wrapped around a small Australian flag.
Accolades came from Hollywood’s elite, who considered Ledger a special talent who stood out both as leading man and supporting actor in films such as “The Patriot” in 2000 and “Monster’s Ball” in 2001.
“What a terrible tragedy. My heart goes out to his family,” said fellow Australian Nicole Kidman.
“It is really tragic when somebody that is gifted and talented is cut down at the early part of their career, because we always think about what more they could have offered the world in terms of their talents,” Jack Nicholson told reporters in London.
In Washington, President George W. Bush postponed an event on an advertising campaign to prevent prescription drug abuse, “given the tragedy of yesterday’s passing of the beloved actor,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
“We did not want anyone to think we were trying to link into that story in any way,” she said.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the country had lost one of its top actors in the prime of life, and the father of Michelle Williams commented on how much Ledger loved his daughter.
“Tennyson got it right in the poem when he described someone as having died at a young age but burning the candles at both ends, and oh what a beautiful flame he made,” Larry Williams told reporters in Australia.
“That was Heath, what a beautiful flame he made and a great talent. My heart goes out to everyone in his family and my family,” Williams said.
(Additional reporting by Robert Campbell and Edith Honan in New York, Mike Collett-White in London, Michael Perry in Sydney and Rob Taylor in Canberra)