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PERTH (Reuters) - The family of actor Heath Ledger celebrated his posthumous nomination for an Oscar on Friday, but their joy was tempered by the timing, coming as it did on the anniversary of his death in New York last year.
Ledger was nominated in Los Angeles on Thursday for his chilling portrayal of the Joker in the Batman movie "The Dark Knight," which went on to be the second highest-grossing movie in history behind "Titanic."
The Australian actor, who died on January 22 last year from an accidental prescription-drug overdose is in the race to win the Oscar for best supporting actor.
For his family in his hometown of Perth, Western Australia, the nomination was a poignant coincidence, but also a reason to celebrate after a year dealing with his death and controversies over his will.
"Although we would love to have him here with us, we are so proud and so excited on his behalf," his half-sister Ashleigh said in a prepared statement as the family held at wake at Cottesloe Beach, one of the actor's favorite surf spots.
"To us ... it seems like merely yesterday and we are still all nursing broken hearts," said his older sister, Kate.
Ledger died five months before the release of "The Dark Knight," which went on to make $977 million worldwide at the box office. Critics heaped praise on his performance and Oscar buzz quickly followed.
Ledger had not been deemed an A-list star despite being nominated in 2005 for a best actor Oscar for his role as a reluctant gay cowboy in "Brokeback Mountain," missing out to Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Capote."
But in recent weeks Ledger's "Joker" has won Golden Globe and Critics Choice awards and also been nominated by the Screen Actors Guild and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.
Ledger's rivals for the award are: Josh Brolin for "Milk," Robert Downey Jr. for "Tropic Thunder," Philip Seymour Hoffman for "Doubt" and Michael Shannon for "Revolutionary Road."
Ledger's parents have said his awards will likely go to his daughter Matilda, 3, who is being raised by Ledger's former partner and "Brokeback Mountain" co-star Michelle Williams.
Ledger, who was 28 when he died, hit the limelight in 2001 as the jousting young squire in action-romance "A Knight's Tale" and won acclaim for smaller parts in "Monster's Ball" and Bob Dylan movie "I'm Not There."
Only one actor has previously won an Academy Award posthumously -- Peter Finch in 1976 for "Network," two months after he suffered a fatal heart attack.
Additional reporting by Jill Sergeant in Los Angeles; Editing by David Fox