News of Heath Ledger's tragic death spread Tuesday within minutes from New York to Australia to Hollywood across media outlets, BlackBerries and iPhones. Once the initial tragedy settled in, those who had known Ledger expressed their shock, shed tears and reflected upon the Oscar-nominated actor's life and accomplishments.
Ledger's body was discovered in his New York apartment by his housekeeper and masseuse in what the police believe was an accidental overdose of prescription drugs. From Australia, where the actor was born, to Utah, where the Sundance Film Festival was under way, it was hard for both those who knew Ledger intimately and those who had never crossed his path not to react to the startling and, to most, unbelievable news.
Australian actress Naomi Watts couldn't hold back tears at Sundance when she heard of her former boyfriend's death, according to several reports in Australian papers. The two dated from 2002 to 2004 after meeting on the set of "Ned Kelly."
Watts' best friend and fellow Aussie, Nicole Kidman, didn't offer a statement but simply reacted to the news by saying,"What a terrible tragedy. My heart goes out to Heath's family."
Another colleague from Down Under, Mel Gibson, spoke about the young actor's promising career. "I had such great hope for him," Gibson said in a statement. "He was just taking off and to lose his life at such a young age is a tragic loss. My thoughts and prayers are with him and his family."
Ledger starred alongside Gibson in 2000's "The Patriot," which would help catapult the up-and-comer to the forefront of the Hollywood scene.
The stunning news of Ledger's death came just as model Helena Christensen was on her way to visit him, she told Women's Wear Daily. Christensen, who was rumored have hooked up with Ledger this past fall following his split from actress Michelle Williams, told the fashion publication: "My heart goes out to his family. I am just beyond sad at this point, and shocked.
"I was on my way over to pay him a visit when I found out. I had just left him a message and heard his voice on the machine.
"He was such a special and genuine person, so extraordinarily talented because he was so raw and honest with his feelings," Christensen said. "He was so full of life, so electric. … This is immensely sad."
Other colleagues reflected on Ledger's acclaimed career.
Speaking at an Australian Week event in New York City, John Travolta called Ledger one of his favorite actors. "He's touched me deeply as a talent and it's a great loss,'' Travolta told the Access Hollywood Web site.
Travolta also touched on his battle with his Hollywood status to People magazine: "He was very modest. He was almost bashful when accepting compliments. He didn't want to make a big deal out of himself. He's a big deal."
Ledger's "I'm Not There" co-star Cate Blanchett also talked of Ledger's potential in the profession. Blanchett said in a statement to Australian papers, "I deeply respect Heath's work and always admired his continuing development as an artist." The Oscar-winning Australian actress offered her condolences: "My thoughts are with his family and close friends."
Another Oscar-winner and friend of the actor, Charlize Theron, learned of his death while walking down the red carpet at Sundance.
Theron later offered her condolences as well: "It's really, really sad. I hope his family is OK. I wish them the best,'' according to Entertainment Tonight's Web site.
Hollywood starlet Lindsay Lohan broke down in tears upon hearing the news while at lunch with friends DJ AM and Samantha Ronson, according to TMZ. Lohan ran with Ledger on the party circuit, and their friendship led to rumors of a romance between the two last fall.
New Zealand actor Sam Neill responded in disbelief upon hearing news of the actor's fate, according to the Australian Herald Sun. Neill said, "Like many in the acting community, I am tremendously saddened and shocked by Heath's death.
"Whatever the circumstances, Heath was someone who had everything to live for. He was a very nice man, and a phenomenal screen actor. This is unbelievable."
Ledger's "Ned Kelly" costar, actor Joel Edgerton, was shattered, according to the Australian Herald Sun and spoke of how the actor was meant for "bigger and better things."
Ledger, with actor Orlando Bloom, in a poster for 2002's "Ned Kelly," during which Edgerton worked with the late actor.
"Heath was an exceptional human being with a massive heart: always generous, adventurous and impressive," Edgerton said, according to the Australian Herald Sun.
"I always believed, as a young man, he was wise well beyond his years. And as far as his work goes, I know I'm not alone in thinking he was just getting started to realize an incredible potential.
"My heart goes out to those who knew him best: to his family, to Michelle and Matilda, and to his friends, especially his Perth gang who I know will be heartbroken right now. Those friends and his family were everything. It really is a sad day. An incredible shock."
Australian actor Guy Pearce had never met Ledger but offered his sympathies to the "friend I never got to meet," according to Australian papers. He said, "Mate, I had such admiration for you. Your dignity, humility, grace and talent will always be an inspiration to me."
Ledger recently finished filming his role as the Joker in "The Dark Knight," which Warner Bros. Studios was planning on releasing next summer.
Warner Bros. Studios released the following statement:
"The studio is stunned and devastated by this tragic news. The entertainment community has lost an enormous talent. Heath was a brilliant actor and an exceptional person. Our hearts go out to his family and friends."
The Ledger family spoke in Perth, Australia (Ledger's birthtown), and released the following statement:
"We, Heath's family, confirm, the very tragic, untimely and accidental passing of our dearly loved son, brother and doting father of Matilda. He was found peacefully asleep in his New York apartment by his housekeeper at 3:30 p.m. U.S. time.
"We would like to thank our friends and everyone around the world for their well wishes and kind thoughts at this time. 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," the Ledger family's statement read. "Please now respect our families need to grieve and come to terms with our loss privately."
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd also expressed his mourning for the star in a statement: "It was with great sadness that I have learned of the passing of Heath Ledger.
"It is tragic that we have lost one of our nation's finest actors in the prime of his life. Heath Ledger's diverse and challenging roles will be remembered as some of the great performances by an Australian actor."
Ledger's director in "Candy," Neil Armfield, talked about Ledger's rise from Australian boy to Hollywood hunk to heavyweight.
Ledger played a poet addicted to heroin in 2006's "Candy."
"He was a young boy in many ways, still a boy when he left Perth and got into this whirlwind of his career,'' Armfield told ABC radio.
"He handled his career incredibly well. He made a decision about four years ago to stop being led by producers and managers, and to forge his own way. He started working with the most interesting directors. He was so successful at breaking out of the teen idol image.
"We saw with his relationship with the paparazzi that he was vulnerable and felt intensely invaded and got so unbelievably distressed," Armfield said. "The photographers would try to push him into a reaction and he was a young man so he would react.''
Actor Geoffrey Rush, who co-starred with Ledger in "Candy," expressed his admiration of the star. He said in a statement, "This is such a sad event. I admired Heath enormously. He was such a sensitive and committed and daring actor. This is truly a tragedy."
While some have found the words, those closest to the star have asked for their privacy at this time. Many friends and colleagues of the late star have avoided press events, including press calls at Sundance, and have taken to grieving, safely hidden from the paparazzi's flashing bulbs.
Ledger's former partner, Michelle Williams, and their 2-year-old daughter found out the tragic news in Sweden, where Williams was filming her upcoming film, "Mammoth." The mother and daughter arrived in New York Wednesday evening.