Coroner: Heath's Death Accidental OD

Coroner rules accidental overdose of prescription meds caused Ledger's death

By Gina Serpe Feb 06, 2008 3:56 PMTags

The results are in: The New York Medical Examiner's Office has announced that Heath Ledger's surprise death on Jan. 22 was the result of an accidental overdose of potent prescription drugs.

"Mr. Heath Ledger died as the result of acute intoxication by the combined effects of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam and doxylamine," medical examiner spokesperson Ellen Borakove said.

"We have concluded that the manner of death is accident, resulting from the abuse of prescription medications."

Although the coroner's office did not reveal the drug levels in Ledger's system, the actor's family, through father Kim Ledger, released a statement indicating that there were only therapeutic amounts present.

"While no medications were taken in excess, we learned today the combination of doctor-prescribed drugs proved lethal for our boy," the family statement said. "Heath's accidental death serves as a caution to the hidden dangers of combining prescription medication, even at low dosage."

Wednesday morning's announcement should quell lingering rumors that illegal drugs may have played a part in the Brokeback Mountain star's untimely passing, despite denials from police that any such substances were even found in the actor's SoHo apartment. It should also end any Mary-Kate Olsen-related conspiracy theories.

Shortly after the body of the 28-year-old actor was found, police confirmed they had recovered six different prescription medications, among them sleeping aids, anti-anxiety pills and an antihistamine. Borakove's rundown of the lethal combination of pharmaceuticals that felled Ledger included the generic names for the painkillers OxyContin and Vicodin, the anti-anxiety drugs Valium and Xanax, the sleeping pills Restoril and Unisom.

Three of the medications the Oscar-nominated actor was on were prescribed in Europe. All of the medications were issued in Ledger's name.

"Today's results put an end to speculation, but our son's beautiful spirit and enduring memory will forever remain in our hearts," the Ledger family said. "Few can understand the hollow, wrenching and enduring agony parents silently suffer when a child predeceases them.

"To most of the world, Heath was an actor of immeasurable talent and promise. To those who knew him personally, Heath was a consummate artist whose passions also included photography, music, chess and directing. We knew Heath as a loving father, as our devoted son, and as a loyal and generous brother and friend."

The official cause and manner of death was originally expected to be announced Tuesday, though the NY Medical Examiner's Office delayed relaying the news for unspecified reasons.

Prior to the results being announced publicly, Ledger's family, currently back in their hometown of Perth, Australia, after attending several Stateside memorial services, had to be contacted and informed of the information.

The family returned Down Under Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday afternoon, local time, Ledger's former fiancée Michelle Williams and two-year-old daughter Matilda touched down in Perth in anticipation of a weekend burial for the actor.

Williams donned black and carried Matilda, who was hauling a white stuffed rabbit, through the airport terminal while surrounded, as Ledger's family was just one day prior, by tight security.

Once outside the airport, the duo were escorted to a waiting car, which drove them directly to the suburban home of Ledger's mother, Sally.

"We treasure our beautiful granddaughter Matilda (to our dear Michelle) as well as an unbelievably wonderful network of close friends, forever, around the world," the family said.

While the family has kept mum, and indeed issued repeat requests for privacy, a funeral for the actor is expected to take place this Saturday at Perth's Karrakatta Cemetery. He will reportedly be interred in a family plot, alongside two of his grandparents. In the wake of the toxicology reports and the amped-up reporting on the service, the Ledger family has, once again, requested privacy.

"Families rarely experience the uplifting, warm and massive outpouring of grief and support as we have, from every corner of the planet. This has deeply and profoundly touched our hearts and lives. We are eternally grateful.

"At this moment, we respectfully request the worldwide media allow us time to grieve privately, without the intrusions associated with press and photography."