Actor Heath Ledger died of an accidental overdose of prescription medication, The Los Angeles Times reported today, referencing a statement released by the New York City Medical Examiner's Office. An overdose of some kind had been the expected cause of death since Ledger, who plays The Joker in the forthcoming "Batman Begins" sequel "The Dark Knight," was found dead n his Soho loft two weeks ago with assorted pills near his bed and around the apartment.
"We have concluded that the manner of death is accidental, resulting from the abuse of prescription medications," said the medical examiner's spokesperson Ellen Borakove. The pills included painkillers OxyContin and Vicodin, anti-anxiety medications Valium and Xanax, sleeping aid Restoril, and antihistamine Unisom.
A call to 911 was delayed when Ledger's masseuse panicked and tried to revive Ledger herself, but authorities have said they do not believe Ledger could have been saved had paramedics arrived immediately.
The news puts to rest disputed rumors of an intentional suicide. In a statement also released today, Ledger's father Kim implored others to use prescription drugs cautiously and asked that the family's privacy be respected as they continue to mourn.
We remain humble as parents and a family, among millions of people worldwide who may have suffered the tragic loss of a child, said the statement, released through a Los Angeles publicist. Few can understand the hollow, wrenching, and enduring agony parents silently suffer when a child predeceases them. Today's results put an end to speculation, but our son's beautiful spirit and enduring memory will forever remain in our hearts.
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.
A medical expert confirmed Kim Ledger's remarks in a telephone interview with the LA Times. All the medications listed are narcotic painkillers or are used as tranquilizers, anti-anxiety drugs or sleeping medications," said Richard A. Rawson, a UCLA professor of psychiatry and associate director of the university's Substance Abuse Programs. "Those medications can have a synergistic effect and can reduce the breathing rate to bring on death. For someone taking medication for sleep and pain on a regular basis, it is possible to take them and to become intoxicated. Those drugs are very widely used, prescribed and considered to have a relatively good safety profile. But if you take enough of them, taken in combination with opiates, you can get an overdose death.
In this case, someone had legitimate prescriptions and simply made an error in dosing himself, a tragic error.
Warner Bros. has confirmed Heath Ledger's work on "The Dark Knight" was completed before his untimely death, and various trade publications have indicated the film's hugely popular Joker-based interactive marketing scheme will be sidelined if not altogether ceased in favor of a new strategy focused on Harvey Dent, known to Batman fans as Two-Face, played by Aaron Eckhart.
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