The shocking death of actor Heath Ledger has left Hollywood in a state of mourning.

Ledger’s lifeless body was discovered Tuesday afternoon in a New York City apartment. He was only 28 years old.

Born Heathcliff Andrew Ledger on April 4, 1979, in Perth, Australia, the actor grew up in a happy atmosphere. A friend of Heath tells OK! the Ledger famly are "lovely, normal people."

Heath moved to the U.S. in the late 1990s to take a crack at Hollywood and appeared in a handfull of small films. His big break came in 1999 when he landed a lead role in the teen comedy Ten Things I Hate About You. A year later, the handsome young star was cast in the Revolutionary War drama, The Patriot, starring and directed by Mel Gibson.

Over the next few years, Heath continued to appear in one successful film after another, including Monster’s Ball (2001), A Knight’s Tale (2001), and Brokeback Mountain, (2005) for which he was nominated for an Academy Award.

 

Ledger often seemed drawn to different and challenging roles . In his 2006 film, Candy, Heath took on the role of a heroin-addicted poet who falls in love with an art student (Abby Cornish) and drags her down into the mire of addiction with him. An Australian film insider tells OK! that Heath was a "notorious method actor, always trying to get into his character as much as possible."

At the time of his death, he had just completed shooting the latest Batman sequel, The Dark Knight, and he spoke openly about the stress he felt playing his character, the Joker. Ledger admitted that he had trouble sleeping because he couldn’t get the troubled character out of his mind. (A bottle of prescribed medication — said to be sleeping pills — were found near Ledger’s bed at the time of his death).

 

Ledger purposely kept himself out of the Hollywood spotlight. He spent most of his time in New York City and friends say he hated doing press for his movies. He did, however, manage to fall into the old Hollywood trap of having high-profile romances with beautiful actresses. He briefly dated actress Heather Graham in 2000 and two years later he met fellow Aussie Naomi Watts on the set of Ned Kelly. The two dated for the next two years.

 

Ledger’s most recent, and well-known, relationship was with actress Michelle Williams, whom he met while filming Brokeback Mountain. The couple moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., and had a daughter together, Matilda Rose Ledger.

In the summer of 2007, Ledger and Williams split, but Heath remained close to his daughter, and friends say the actor was a committed and devoted father to 2-year-old Matilda.

Before his death, Ledger had just returned from London, where he was shooting the film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

In a statement to the Australian press, Heath’s father, Kim Ledger, said, "Heath has touched so many people on so many different levels during his short life, but few had the pleasure of truly knowing him.

He was a down-to-earth, generous, kind-hearted, life-loving and selfless individual who was extremely inspirational to many. Please now respect our families need to grieve and come to terms with our loss privately."

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