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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 January 2008, 13:50 GMT
Shocked Australia mourns Ledger
By Nick Bryant
BBC News, Sydney

The front page of the MX newspaper in Sydney
The front page of the MX newspaper in Sydney said: "Heath dead."
Here in Australia, the news of actor Heath Ledger's death has been a "have you heard" event - a tragedy conveyed as fast by word of mouth as over the airwaves and on the internet.

Newspapers have had to reconfigure their websites to accommodate both wall-to-wall coverage and tributes from their readers.

Nowhere has the sense of shock and loss been more deeply felt than in the actor's home town of Perth, where he was born in 1979.

From there, his father Kim addressed the media, flanked by the actor's mother Sally and younger sister Kate.

"Heath has touched so many people on so many different levels during his short life, but few had the pleasure of truly knowing him," Mr Ledger said.

Ledger's family delivering a statement outside their home in Perth
Ledger's family gave a statement outside their home in Perth
"He was a down-to-earth, generous, kind-hearted, life-loving, unselfish individual who was extremely inspirational to many."

Heath Ledger had spent much of December and January, the height of the southern summer, in his home town. Seemingly in good spirits, he was grateful to have been left alone by the paparazzi.

"I don't know whether it's a conscious thing or an unconscious thing, giving me space and respecting my privacy," he told Mark Naglazas, the film editor of the local paper The West Australian in a message left on the journalist's telephone.

"It's just been awesome. And I've had the most beautiful time back here and being able to see all my friends and family, let alone the press and the people within the community of Perth, it's been so lovely."

Prior to the break, Ledger had been having trouble sleeping following his roles in I'm Not There, the portrait of Bob Dylan's life, and The Dark Knight, the latest Batman movie in which he played The Joker.

Paparazzi problems

Judging by the answer machine message, his time in Perth offered him much-needed relief. "It's really enabled me to be a boy again from home and feel like I'd never left," he said.

"It's truly been an incredibly therapeutic and a much-needed trip home and just that little touch has made it all that more special to me."

It was his fractious relationship with the Sydney paparazzi that limited his time in his homeland.

Heath Ledger was an actor's actor trapped in a movie star's life
Megan Lehmann
The Bulletin
He sold his $A7m ($6m, 3m) house overlooking Bronte beach in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs, where he lived with his then fiancee and Brokeback Mountain co-star Michelle Williams, following complaints that photographers were stalking him. Instead, he moved to America.

At the Sydney premiere of Brokeback Mountain, five photographers, who the actor had allegedly spat at, retaliated by firing water pistols.

When Ledger returned home that night, he broke down and cried. That was the night, according to his father, that he decided to sell the beachside home and move to America.

The price of celebrity had become too high. As Megan Lehmann of The Bulletin news magazine put it: "Heath Ledger was an actor's actor trapped in a movie star's life."

Ledger with fellow Aussie stars Magda Szubanski (left) and Dannii Minogue
Aussie stars Magda Szubanski (left) and Dannii Minogue with Ledger
To say Australians saw Heath Ledger grow up on screen would be an exaggeration.

There was a five-year gap between his first appearance as a 13-year-old in Australian film Clowning Around and his next major roles in another Aussie movie, Blackrock, and the "soapie" Home and Away. But Australians did see him mature into adulthood.

At the age of 19, Mel Gibson spotted the talent of his fellow Australian and cast him The Patriot over 500 other hopefuls. Internationally, it proved to be his breakthrough movie.

But it was Brokeback Mountain, a film for which he was nominated for an Oscar, that elevated him to the Australian movie star pantheon, alongside Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman and Geoffrey Rush.

His performance alongside Rush in the 2006 Australian film Candy, where he played a heroin addict, was arguably more accomplished.

The last word goes to film critic Margaret Pomeranz, co-host of ABC's iconic At the Movies review show. "I am so upset, I just can't tell you," she told ABC Radio.

"I mean he is such a talented boy and really, I think a beautiful soul."

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