SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian actor Heath Ledger, who was found dead in his New York apartment, was edgy and anxious during his Christmas holidays about not seeing his daughter Matilda, close friend and model Sophie Ward told local media.
Ward, sister of supermodel Gemma Ward with whom Ledger had been reportedly linked, said Ledger was distressed during holidays in his hometown Perth, worried about his split with Michelle Williams and their two-year-old daughter.
“He was clean and wasn’t drinking any alcohol or taking drugs,” Ward told The West Australian newspaper on Thursday.
Ledger, 28, was found on Tuesday face down and naked beneath the covers of his bed with sleeping pills and other prescription medication nearby, New York police said.
Police initially said Ledger may have died from a drug overdose, but a New York City’s medical examiner conducted an autopsy that proved inconclusive.
Ledger’s family said his death was a tragic accident and Sophie Ward also said she did not believe Ledger took his life.
“He smoked cigarettes, but that’s about it. He was drinking diet Coke when we were together and he said he was very committed to not drinking alcohol,” she said. “I don’t believe he took his own life deliberately.”
But Ward said Ledger was distressed about his split with Williams and being away from his daughter.
“We went to the movies and just did normal stuff ... but he was a bit edgy. He couldn’t really relax,” said Ward.
“He said he was going to London but was quite upset because he couldn’t see his daughter as much as he’d like to. He was traveling so much and I think he was just frustrated with it all.”
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 and Williams, a co-star in “Brokeback Mountain,” split in September and Ledger moved from their Brooklyn home to an apartment in the SoHo area of Manhattan.
Ledger’s death shocked Australia and Hollywood, both mourning the loss of a young actor with great talent.
“It’s heart-breaking... It’s a great loss,” Ang Lee, who directed Ledger in “Brokeback Mountain,” told Reuters in Tokyo.
“He is such a sincere actor.”
Australian newspapers ran front-page stories and pictures on Thursday about Ledger. Sydney’s Daily Telegraph headline read: “Heath burned candle at both ends ... but what a Beautiful Flame” and The Sydney Morning Herald’s said “The sleepless stress of a troubled star.”
Both the Herald and national newspaper the Australian gave Ledger’s death more prominence than the U.S. Federal Reserve’s surprise interest rate cut and Australia’s stockmarket woes.
“A grieving nation is today waiting to learn of the cause of the shock death of actor Heath Ledger,” said the Telegraph.
Media praised Ledger’s acting but highlighted his struggle with the paparazzi, which drove him from a beachside Sydney home in 2006 to New York, where he thought he could be anonymous.
Ledger spent much of December and January with his family and friends in his hometown Perth on the west Australia coast, a place where his fame seemed not to follow him, said newspapers.
Before heading back to the United States Ledger rang the film editor of The West Australian newspaper and left a message thanking the media for leaving him alone, the paper said.
“I don’t know whether it’s a conscious thing or an unconscious thing, giving me space and respecting my privacy,” Ledger told the paper. “It’s just been awesome.”
“I’ve had the most beautiful time back here and being able to see all my friends and family ... It’s really enabled me to be a boy again from home and feel like I’d never left,” he said.
“It’s truly been an incredibly therapeutic and a much-needed trip home...”
Additional reporting by Takanori Isshiki in Tokyo; editing by Sanjeev Miglani