Ledger's hometown mourns its biggest star

February 4, 2008 6:30:10 PM PST
Heath Ledger's hometown prepared Monday for the arrival of his remains, while locals expressed dismay at speculation in the media that the actor had used drugs.

Details of funeral arrangements for the late co-star of "Brokeback Mountain" have not been announced, but Ledger's family is expected to bring his body back to Perth. Family members have reportedly already attended two memorial services in Los Angeles.

The Ledger family arrived Tuesday in the northeastern city of Brisbane from Los Angeles en route to Perth, the national news agency the Australian Associated Press reported.

The Australian newspaper reported Monday that Ledger will be buried next to two of his grandparents in a family plot in Perth. Ledger's publicist, Mara Buxbaum, didn't immediately respond to an e-mail from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Ledger died in his New York City apartment Jan. 22 at age 28. Authorities suspect a drug overdose, but the cause of his death is still pending the outcome of toxicology tests. Police said several prescription drugs were found in the apartment where the actor's body was found.

Residents of this idyllic city located on the western Australia coast expressed sadness at his sudden death - and outrage over 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. "Entertainment Tonight" decided against airing the footage after a Hollywood publicity firm that represented Ledger mounted a protest that included several A-list stars.

"He was a great star for us. We don't have many stars from here," she said.

"I think it's disgusting how the media has played it out," said Justin Kestel, a 28-year-old travel agency manager who said he played field hockey against Ledger when they attended opposing secondary school teams.

Another Perth resident, Ian Bennett, said he was indifferent about Ledger's death and believed allegations of his drug use. "It's part of the scene," the food services attendant at Royal Perth Hospital said.

Perth journalists who covered Ledger said he was a huge source of pride.

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

Harvey said Ledger returned to Perth to promote some of his earlier movies, but he tried to keep a low profile when returning to visit his family. Not that he seemed to be a natural at handling the press.

"He was not easy to interview," Harvey said. "It appeared he was uncomfortable with doing interviews and feature stories and having media and complete strangers prying into his personal life."


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