Ledger's family returns to Australia


PERTH, Australia -- Heath Ledger's family evaded scores of photographers Tuesday as they returned to Perth following the Oscar-nominated actor's death in a Manhattan apartment last month.

Several security guards and police officers watched as Ledger's father, Kim, and several other relatives emerged from their plane after other passengers had disembarked.

Kim Ledger didn't answer reporters' questions as the entourage quickly entered an elevator in the airport terminal. Local media reported family members were driven across the tarmac and out of the airport, evading the press pack that had gathered in the arrival hall.

There was no immediate indication that Heath Ledger's body or remains had arrived.

Mara Buxbaum, Ledger's U.S.-based publicist, has said the family wants to keep funeral arrangements private, and Michelle Williams, the mother of his 2-year-old daughter Matilda, has requested privacy for those in mourning.

The family will reportedly hold a private ceremony and either bury Ledger's remains or have them cremated and interred at the family's plot at a cemetery in Perth, where his two grandparents lie. The timing of the funeral is unclear.

Ledger, who was nominated for an Oscar for his role in "Brokeback Mountain," died in his New York City apartment Jan. 22. He was 28. Authorities suspect a drug overdose, but toxicology tests are still pending. Police said several prescription drugs were found in the apartment where his body was found.

As Ledger's hometown prepared for his funeral, residents of this idyllic and isolated city in the southwest corner of Australia expressed sadness at his sudden death -- and outrage at rumors that he was a drug user.

"If a person dies, let him go in peace. All this rubbish they bring up about drugs and everything else, I think it's a lot of rubbish," said Margaret Byrne, a 58-year-old catering supervisor at Royal Perth Hospital.

Much of that speculation was fueled by video footage showing Ledger at a Hollywood hotel party where drugs were being taken two years ago.

Ledger was a source of pride for Perth -- a metropolis of some 1.3 million people that lies on the edge of Australia's vast Outback and is thousands of miles from the nearest major city.

"It's probably the biggest news we've had in Perth in a long time," said Shannon Harvey, film critic at The Sunday Times. "He's probably the highest-profile star who's ever come out of Perth."