Residents of New York City's SoHo district are used to crossing paths with celebrities. But on Wednesday they grieved for one. Neighbors and fans erected a makeshift memorial outside the apartment building in which Heath Ledger was found dead on Tuesday afternoon. Among about a dozen bouquets of flowers, handwritten notes and flickering candles stood a hand-drawn portrait of the square-jawed actor, a cigarette jutting from his lips, reminiscent of James Dean, a Hollywood legend who also died young and famous. Ledger was at a point in his career where he had graduated from heartthrob (A Knight's Tale) to serious screen actor (Brokeback Mountain) when a housekeeper came across his naked body in his Manhattan loft at 421 Broome Street. A day after that discovery, from across the street, passers-by gazed up at the building's gray windows and snapped pictures with their camera-phones.
There are no immediate answers to how Ledger died. The city's chief medical examiner's office was unable to ascertain the cause of death based on an autopsy performed Wednesday morning. "We did the autopsy today and it was inconclusive," Ellen Borakove, an office spokeswoman, told TIME. Further toxicology and tissue tests were needed to determine the cause of death, she said. It will be at least ten days before results become available.
Ledger's body was discovered Tuesday by the housekeeper, who entered the bedroom of the fourth-floor loft he was renting in order to alert him that his masseuse had arrived for a scheduled appointment. (According to the New York Post, she said that at around noon she could still hear the actor snoring in bed.) Sleeping pills were found near the 28-year old actor. The actor had told the New York Times in late 2007 that he was having trouble sleeping; he also said slipping deep into character for his roles often exacted a personal toll. TMZ.com reported that the anti-anxiety medications Xanax and Valium were found in the apartment. According to the Times, police spokesman Paul Browne acknowledged that prescription drugs and a rolled-up $20 bill were found but denied the money had narcotic residue on it, as an earlier news report had alleged. The NYPD spokesman was adamant that no narcotics were found in the apartment. Nevertheless, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the bill was being tested further because of the way it was folded.
Police suggested the cause of death could be an accidental overdose and confirmed to TIME that foul play is not suspected. In a statement given to reporters in the actor's hometown of Perth, Australia, Ledger's father, Kim, denied the death was a suicide, calling his son's passing "tragic, untimely and accidental."
Though the late actor had taken on other roles since, it was his Oscar-nominated performance as Ennis Del Mar, a sheep rancher who discovers his homosexuality in Brokeback Mountain, that mourners referred to again and again. His death was particularly poignant to gay New Yorkers. "He is a gay icon," says John Lopez, 22, who works in a gourmet food store that Ledger frequented. "To support us, he broke a lot of taboos." From overseas, the film's director Ang Lee said in a statement, "He brought to the role of Ennis more than any of us could have imagined a thirst for life, for love, and for truth, and a vulnerability that made everyone who knew him love him. His death is heartbreaking."