Stars Pressure TV Shows to Nix Ledger Drug Video

Natalie Portman, S.J. Parker pressure "ET" to pull drug video of late actor.


Jan. 31, 2008— -- Apparently bowing to pressure from celebrities and Hollywood publicists, "Entertainment Tonight" and "The Insider" won't air a video of the late actor Heath Ledger discussing his drug use at a party surrounded by others using illicit drugs.

Actors Natalie Portman, Sarah Jessica Parker, Josh Brolin and Ellen Page called producers at sister TV shows owned by CBS Paramount to request the full video not be aired Thursday after a teaser was shown Wednesday night, a source close to the stars told ABC

In the promo, Ledger is seen at a party in which other people appear to be using cocaine, although he does not do so in the portion aired.

"I used to smoke five joints a day for 20 years," Ledger says in the video, reportedly shot at Los Angeles hotspot Chateau Martmont following the 2006 Screen Actors Guild Awards.

In a poor quality but full-length clip of the video leaked online and viewed by ABC News, a man in silhouette who sounds like Ledger can be heard uttering the line about smoking joints. The video does not show him using drugs.

Further into the video, during a conversation with an unidentified woman about a tattoo, which was not included in the promo clip, Ledger says, "That's a reminder not to smoke weed. ... I haven't smoked weed in (inaudible)."

Ledger, 28, was found dead on Jan. 22 in his New York City apartment. His representatives have denied that he used illegal substances, and no illicit drugs were reportedly found in his home at the time of his death.

"I shouldn't be here at all," Ledger says in the promo clip that aired on both shows Wednesday. "I'm gonna get so much s*** from my girlfriend," he says, referring to Michelle Williams, his former fiancée and the mother of his daughter.

A spokesperson for the shows confirmed that the full video will not air.

"Out of respect for Heath Ledger's family, 'Entertainment Tonight' and 'The Insider' have decided not to run the Heath Ledger video which has been circulating in the world media," a show spokesperson said in a statement.

The programs, however, have shown arguably more disturbing footage in the past, including a video of an intoxicated Anna Nicole Smith in clown makeup that aired after her death, and pictures of the car crash that killed Princess Diana. This has led some observers to speculate that celebrities and their reps may have threatened to boycott the show if the footage was aired.

"We reached out to other entertainers and publicists, but at no time did anyone threaten to boycott the show," said Kelly Bush, CEO of ID, the public relations firm that represents Ledger.

"People were upset that they were sensationalizing a two-year-old video. They thought it was irresponsible to hurt people who were already hurting," she said.

In a message to celebrities, publicists and studio executives, Ledger's publicists implored them to contact "Entertainment Tonight" and "The Insider" and object to the video being aired.

"Tonight 'Entertainment Tonight/The Insider' are previewing an extremely distasteful segment regarding Heath Ledger," reads the e-mail sent out on Wednesday. "The segment centers around a two-year-old video ET purchased for a large sum of money in the hopes of stirring up a salacious and exploitive story about Heath, which would win them big ratings on the first day of sweeps. The two outlets did not even have the courtesy to wait until after Heath's burial to broadcast this segment. They intend to air the full segment tomorrow.

"For the sake of his grieving family and friends, his child, and common decency, we hope to pressure 'Entertainment Tonight' and 'The Insider' to do the right thing and pull the spot. This is not journalism, it is sensationalism."

The email was provided to ABC News by Bush.

The spokesperson for "Entertainment Tonight" and "The Insider" did not respond to calls and emails from ABC News as to whether the programs had been contacted by celebrities or about whether they would have aired the entire video. In both cases they referred back to their original statement.

Industry observers told ABC News that despite the issue of taste, the show may have been trying not to burn bridges with celebrities they hoped to interview in the future.

"There probably was tremendous pressure from Heath's camp not to run the video and the issue of it being in 'bad taste,'" said Michael Musto, gossip columnist for the Village Voice, via e-mail. "Entertainment Tonight probably didn't want to suffer the backlash of people claiming this was gross exploitation — though every one of those people would have tuned in to watch. A show like that treads very carefully, needing constant access to stars and their handlers in order to stay in business."

Channel 9 in Australia would not confirm to that it, too, owned the rights to the video and that it would air it in its entirety, but said a number of networks there had been showing the teaser aired by ET and "The Insider."

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