Family, peers: Ledger's death 'real tragedy'

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SYDNEY -- The Australian film community paid tribute to Heath Ledger on Wednesday as a steady stream of statements and interviews followed news of the Perth-born actor's death Tuesday at age 28.

Variously described as a great actor and prodigious talent, down-to-earth but shy, Ledger continued to make Australian films even as his Hollywood career rocketed over the past 11 years.

With no formal training, Ledger started acting at age 17 in the Aussie TV series "Sweat," but his breakout feature film role came in 1999 with the crime caper "Two Hands," for which he earned his first Australian Film Institute best actor award nomination.

While his Hollywood career took off with "10 Things I Hate About You" that same year, he made another two Australian films -- the historical biopic "Ned Kelly" in 2003 and the heroin-fueled love story "Candy" in 2006.

He received the Australian Film Institute's viewers' choice award in 2006 for "Candy" and also was awarded the AFI's international actor of the year at the same ceremony for his Oscar-nominated role in Ang Lee's "Brokeback Mountain."

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said it was "tragic that we have lost one of our nation's finest actors in the prime of his life. Heath Ledger's diverse and challenging roles will be remembered as some of the great performances by an Australian actor."

Arts Minister Peter Garrett added that Ledger was "obviously an instinctive and powerful presence, and it's a real tragedy that he's died as young as he has. ... Australia's lost a talent, a bloke that achieved a lot in a short time and had so much more to give."

Testament to the esteem with which he was held in the industry here were the myriad tributes from colleagues and critics.

Geoffrey Rush, who co-starred with Ledger in "Candy," said he was "a sensitive and committed and daring actor."

Cate Blanchett, who starred alongside Ledger in the Bob Dylan biopic "I'm Not There," said she "deeply respected Ledger's work and always admired his continuing development as an artist." Mel Gibson, who cast Ledger in "The Patriot," said he had great hope for the actor. "He was just taking off, and to lose his life at such a young age is a tragic loss," he said.

Nicole Kidman said in a statement that Ledger's death was a "tragedy."

Neil Armfield, who directed Ledger in "Candy," told ABC Radio of Ledger's decision four years ago "to stop being led by producers and managers and to forge his own way. He started working with the most interesting directors. He was so successful at breaking out of the teen idol image." Respected film critic Margaret Pomeranz added that "to choose the roles he chose shows such intelligence."

"We, Heath's family, can confirm the very tragic, untimely and accidental passing of our dearly loved son, brother and doting father of Matilda," his father, Kim, said Wednesday. "He was a down-to-earth, generous, kindhearted, life-loving unselfish individual extremely inspirational to many."
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