The actor's anguished family learned of his death a world away in Australia

By People Staff
January 23, 2008 01:30 PM
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A world away from the downtown New York City apartment where Heath Ledger was found dead on Jan. 22, in the actor’s native Australia, news of the tragedy reached his anguished family in various ways, PEOPLE reports in its new cover story, on newsstands Friday.

“I heard about his death in the press, and I called his mother to find out what was happening, and even she didn’t know,” says Ledger’s uncle Neil Bell, who lives in California and had recently spoken with his nephew. “Heath’s father found out through the press,” said Bell. “It’s a pretty devastating way to find out.”

Ledger’s father, Kim Ledger, called the death a “very tragic, untimely and accidental passing” and said his son “was found peacefully asleep in his apartment.”

Police are “doing toxicology reports,” says a source close to Ledger’s family, who adds that the 28-year-old actor was suffering from pneumonia at the time of his death. “The family has been told there’s no reason to think it’s anything but accidental.”

For more on this story, including Ledger’s plans for the night of that fateful Tuesday, and his adjustments to life after splitting with Michelle Williams, pick up this week’s PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

Heath Ledger: Life in Photos: See all the actor’s most recent photos – from life as a dad to being an Oscar nominee