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Cinema’s Ledger found dead

Actor Heath Ledger was found dead at a Manhattan apartment on Tuesday .

AP photo

NEW YORK – Australian actor Heath Ledger, 28, whose searing performance in “Brokeback Mountain” won universal acclaim and an indelible place in cinematic history, was found dead in a downtown Manhattan apartment Tuesday afternoon.

New York police said drugs may have been a factor, though the cause of death is under investigation. Sleeping pills were found at the scene and the actor was naked, according to police. It wasn’t immediately clear if Ledger had committed suicide.

Ledger had an appointment for a massage at the SoHo apartment that is believed to his home. A massage therapist and a housekeeper found his naked body in the bed at about 3:30 p.m. They tried to revive him, but he was already dead.

“It is a great screen performance, as good as the best of Marlon Brando and Sean Penn,” the New York Times’ Stephen Holden raved of Ledger’s 2005 spare, Oscar-nominated performance as laconic Ennis Del Mar, who struggles with his forbidden love for a fellow ranch hand, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, in 1963 Wyoming.

“I feel like I’m wasting time if I repeat myself. I can’t say I’m proud of my work,” he said in an interview with the New York Times. “I feel the same way about everything I do. The day I say, ‘It’s good’ is the day I should start doing something else.”

Ledger most recently appeared in “I’m Not There,” Todd Haynes’ rumination on Bob Dylan. He had completed work as The Joker, in the Batman movie “The Dark Knight,” scheduled for release this summer.

He’s had starring roles in “A Knight’s Tale” and “The Patriot,” and played the suicidal son of Billy Bob Thornton in “Monster’s Ball.”

Before settling down with Michelle Williams, who played his wife in Brokeback, Ledger had relationships with actresses Heather Graham and Naomi Watts. He and Williams have a daugther, Matilda, and lived together in Brooklyn until they split up last year.

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