Heath Ledger’s Death Ruled Accidental Overdose

Lesson: be careful with the prescription pills. Ending weeks of speculation with official closure and a bit of universal health advice, actor Heath Ledger‘s death on January 22nd has been attributed to an “acute intoxication” of several prescription medications. A New York medical examiner said that toxicology reports show that a lethal combination of anxiety medications (Xanax, Valium), sleeping aids (Restoril, Unisom) and pain killers (Vicodin, OxyContin) were found in his system at the time of death. Information pertaining to which drugs or what doses proved most responsible was not revealed. Ledger’s family issued a statement, here’s an excerpt…

“While no medications were taken in excess, we learned today the combination of doctor-prescribed drugs proved lethal for our boy. Heath’s accidental death serves as a caution to the hidden dangers of combining prescription medication, even at low dosage.”

In related news, the official website for Ledger’s last film, Terry Gilliam‘s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, has gone live. If you click here you will see the words “Coming Soon.” According to a source at Quick Stop Entertainment, the production has not ceased, and yet certain “shady parties” would like the general public to think The Dark Knight was the 28-year-old actor’s final role. Um, okay. Regarding Doctor Parnassus, there are no new developments to the rumors that Ledger’s role will be recast (with Johnny Depp?) and/or that CGI will be utilized to complete his part. Stay tuned.

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Heath LedgerLast week The Sun reported that director Terry Gilliam had his sights on Johnny Depp to finish what remains of the late Heath Ledger’s role in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. However, now comes word that Depp’s reps tell People that “There have been no official talks, and he is currently working on Public Enemies for Michael Mann for Universal.” But that doesn’t mean that the project will be shelved.  Co-star Christopher Plummer says that Gilliam is working hard to find a way to finish the film, possibly even using a CGI:

“Terry’s throwing himself into the job of trying to salvage the picture,” said Plummer. “[Gilliam is] trying to work out at this moment how to continue on. Fortunately, because the film deals with magic, there is a way, perhaps, of turning Heath into other people and then, using stills and I think they call it CGI… Terry was a very good friend [of Heath's]. He very wants to go on with the movie, and I can very much understand why. Because he wants to dedicate it to Heath, of course.”

I’m not quite sure what Plummer is trying to say, but it sure sounds to me like Gilliam is considering using computer generated character effects to finish some of Ledger’s remaining sequences.

Director Terry Gilliam is said to have his sights on Johnny Depp to finish a presumable portion of what remains of Heath Ledger‘s role in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. The news comes from Rupert Murdoch’s scandal-obsessed UK paper The Sun, complete with a quote from an unnamed studio source…

“There is a point in the film when Heath falls through a magic mirror,” says the anonymous source. “He could change into another character after that and that is where Johnny would come in. It’s a weird, fantasy, time-travel movie so Heath’s character could easily change appearance. It would be a poignant moment. Johnny’s not working at the moment so everyone is praying he will do it.”

Now, this sounds like it could be legit, as Gilliam and Depp previously collaborated on the infamous The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, a movie that was canceled mid-production due to an actor’s serious illness, as well as floods, a possible voodoo curse et al. And then there’s Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which clearly marked a personal career highlight for Depp. And as you can see, Depp and Ledger are often shown wearing fedoras, sunglasses and artiste ‘staches in photos, so there’s a shared appearance and sensibility.

On one hand, Depp would be paying a nice tribute to Ledger if he goes for it and saving Gilliam yet another dashed vision on his record; on the other, if Depp’s not interested, this is a messed up way to create an obligation via the media, no matter the source.

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If anyone remains unsure, Heath Ledger‘s filming and voice work on The Dark Knight were completed before his unfortunate death yesterday (click here for latest updates). However, it would seem that the status of his last film, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which marked his second collaboration with director Terry Gilliam following 2005′s The Brothers Grimm, is in jeopardy. Variety reports that the film had recently finished up its London leg of the shoot and had moved on to Vancouver to continue filming before the incident stunned the world. Producers of the $30 million indie film have not yet issued a statement regarding how Ledger’s death will impact production. Whether the role will be recast and whether the film can even proceed are not known.

Seeing that Ledger was the film’s largest star, with a sizable lead on co-stars Christopher Plummer and Tom Waits in terms of name recognition, this is detrimental. His casting was pivotal to the financing of the project. As most of us know, Gilliam’s films and almost-films have a long history of unfortunate events, budget issues and creative conflicts that put his latest films’ box office prospects on shaky ground. This was all painfully exemplified in the 2002 documentary Lost in La Mancha, which chronicled the downward spiral of Gilliam’s never completed $35 million The Man Who Killed Don Quixote with Johnny Depp in the lead. The final nail in that film’s coffin was the illness of star Jean Rochefort.

Doctor Parnassus follows an ancient traveling theater company “which arrives in modern London with a magical mirror that can transport its audience into fantastical realms of the imagination.” Plummer plays the title doctor, while Ledger’s role is that of an outsider who must fend off the devil in order to rescue the doc’s daughter, played by Lily Cole.

The trade also reports that Ledger was gearing up for his directorial debut, an adaptation of the 1983 Walter Tevis novel The Queen’s Gambit, about a female chess prodigy, rumored to star Juno phenom Ellen Page.

Heath Ledger Dead at 28

Note: This story will remain on the top of /Film for the next day.

Actor Heath Ledger, who plays the Joker in this summer’s The Dark Knight, died today at around 3:30 p.m. EST. Ledger was reportedly found naked in bed in a state of cardiac arrest by a housekeeper who promptly called 911. He was found in a Manhattan apartment, in SoHo; police formerly reported that Mary-Kate Olsen was the owner of the apartment, however this info has been proven incorrect. Police do not suspect foul play. Two bottles of sleeping pills, one prescription and one over-the-counter, were found near the body and some reports had them scattered around the room. Ledger has one child, a 2-year-old daughter, Matilda Rose, with his wife the actress Michelle Williams. Ledger and Williams are said to have still been separated at the time of his death. An autopsy is now scheduled for Wednesday.

In 2006, Ledger was nominated for Best Actor for his performance in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain. He was currently working on The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, his second film under the direction of Terry Gilliam.

R.I.P.

UPDATE: In an interview published in the NY Times in November, Ledger is attributed with a few alarming quotes and behavioral tics that could be interpreted as warning signs for severe distress and anxiety…

….as often happens when he throws himself into a part, he is not sleeping much.

“Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night,” he said. “I couldn’t stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going.” One night he took an Ambien, which failed to work. He took a second one and fell into a stupor, only to wake up an hour later, his mind still racing.

Even as he spoke, Mr. Ledger was hard-pressed to keep still. He got up and poured more coffee. He stepped outside into the courtyard and smoked a cigarette. He shook his hair out from under its hood, put a rubber band around it, took out the rubber band, put on a hat, took off the hat, put the hood back up. He went outside and had another cigarette. Polite and charming, he nonetheless gave off the sense that the last thing he wanted to do was delve deep into himself for public consumption. “It can be a little distressing to have to overintellectualize yourself,” is how he put it, a little apologetically.

Also, in the following video interview in correlation with his press days for I’m Not There, he seems disoriented and possibly under the influence. Click here to view.

UPDATE 2: An NYPD spokesman now reports that there was no “obvious indication of suicide.” The pills and pill bottles found at the scene were reportedly sleeping pills, one a prescription medication, the other over-the-counter.

Update 3: Unfortunate news comes this Wednesday that police also found a 20-note with narcotic residue and several drug packets in the bedroom where Ledger was found. In the following article, Jack Nicholson is said to have told a reporter on Tuesday that he had recently “warned” Ledger.

Update 4:  Previous reports by CBS News that drug packets were found along with a 20-note with traces of narcotic residue in the apartment at the time of Ledger’s death are now proven to be false. A rolled-up 20-note was found but tests for narcotics have come back negative. Really careless reporting by the mainstream media on this story, eh? You may remember that the New York Times first reported (rather quickly) that it was Mary-Kate Olsen’s apartment, also false.

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