The actor was declared dead by medics at his Broome Street apartment in SoHo home at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, according to the New York Police Department.
A police spokesperson reveals Ledger was discovered by his housekeeper, after he failed to answer the door for a masseuse he had booked to give him a massage.
Pills were found strewn around his apartment.
Fiercely private, Ledger had openly spoken about his public shyness, but he hit the headlines for romances with Heather Graham, Naomi Watts and his Brokeback Mountain co-star Michelle Williams, the mother of his 2-year-old daughter Matilda Rose.
A star field hockey player and athlete, Ledger turned his attentions to drama in his teens and, when a friend headed to Sydney, Australia, to chase an acting dream, the star-to-be went along for the ride.
He landed a break as a gay cyclist in 1996's Sweat--a TV drama about a group of Olympic hopefuls--and then he portrayed the best friend of a rapist in low-budget 1997 movie Blackrock.
That film helped him land the lead hunk role in teen movie hit 10 Things I Hate About You.
As awkward cowboy Ennis Del Mar, Ledger regained his position as one of Hollywood's top stars. The role led to a Best Actor Oscar nod and the coveted role of The Joker in the upcoming The Dark Knight, for which he's already receiving great acclaim.
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