PERTH (Reuters) - Heath Ledger was remembered at a private memorial service in his Australian home town on Saturday, with fellow actor Cate Blanchett giving a eulogy and Ledger’s father thanking his son’s fans for their support.
Ledger, 28, best known for his role as a conflicted gay cowboy in the 2005 movie “Brokeback Mountain,” died of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs in his New York apartment on Jan 22.
His death shocked film fans and actors around the world and prompted warnings about mixing prescription drugs, particularly pain killers, tranquillizers and sleeping pills.
Among the mourners at Saturday’s memorial service, in Perth, were Ledger’s former partner and Brokeback Mountain co-star Michelle Williams, who arrived with Ledger’s sister Kate but without the couple’s two-year-old daughter Matilda.
Also among the hundreds of mourners at the service, at a private girls school in the Western Australian city, was model Gemma Ward, with whom Ledger had been reportedly linked, as well as Australian actors Blanchett, Bryan Brown and Joel Edgerton.
Ledger’s father, Kim Ledger, had earlier asked the media to allow the family to grieve in private, but said cameras would be allowed to photograph mourners as they arrived for the memorial service.
“It’s a pretty sad time and we are finding it difficult to cope by ourselves, let alone cope with everybody around the world,” Kim Ledger told reporters outside the family home earlier on Saturday.
“Having said that, we do really appreciate the outpouring and the emotional support from all over the world.”
The memorial service lasted about 90 minutes. Local media said Ledger’s body was then cremated at a private funeral service attended by only about 10 immediate family members.
Other mourners went on to a beachside restaurant for a wake.
Ledger starred in 18 movies in Australia and Hollywood, and received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a gay cowboy opposite co-star Jake Gyllenhaal in “Brokeback Mountain.”
Most recently, he starred as the Joker in the latest “Batman” movie “Dark Knight,” and was one of the many incarnations of Bob Dylan in “I’m Not There.” He was working in Terry Gilliam’s “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” at the time of his death.
Other films included “Casanova,” “The Brothers Grimm,” “Monster’s Ball,” “A Knight’s Tale,” “10 Things I Hate About You” and “Ned Kelly,” where he portrayed Australia’s best-known bushranger.
Mourners said Blanchett, Ledger’s parents and sister all gave moving and poignant eulogies at the service, which also included video clips of the actor and some of his favorite music, including Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changing.”
Ledger met Williams, 27, on the set of “Brokeback Mountain,” but the pair split last September and Ledger moved from their Brooklyn home and into an apartment in Manhattan’s Soho area.
Close friend and model Sophie Ward in January said the star had been anxious and edgy over the Christmas holidays about not seeing his daughter.
Born in Perth in 1979, Ledger first gained attention playing a surfer in an Australian television soap, but had his big break when fellow Australian Mel Gibson cast him in a leading role as Gibson’s character’s son in the 2000 film “The Patriot.”
The brooding actor was considered one of the industry’s great young talents, with Australia’s media including him in the “Aussie Hollywood Mafia” group alongside Blanchett, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman.
Ledger continued to work in both the United States and Australia, but he had an ongoing feud with Australian photographers, who fired water pistols at Ledger and Williams at the Australian premier of “Brokeback Mountain.”
The incident prompted Ledger to leave his Sydney beachside home to live in the United States, where he hoped to find some privacy and anonymity, saying photographers were “kicking me out of the city.”
Writing by James Grubel; Editing by Alex Richardson