The actor Heath Ledger was found dead in a Manhattan apartment on Tuesday afternoon, the New York City police said.
The police said Mr. Ledger, 28, was discovered facedown in bed in an apartment at 421 Broome Street in SoHo. Police officials said that a bottle of prescription sleeping pills were found on a nearby night table, but that they did not know whether they played a role in Mr. Ledger's death.
Mr. Ledger, the star of "Brokeback Mountain" and other films, was discovered by a housekeeper and a masseuse, the police said. The housekeeper had been in the apartment for some time before Mr. Ledger's body was discovered, and she let the masseuse in when she at the apartment for a 3:31 p.m. appointment with Mr. Ledger, the police said. They said they did not know when Mr. Ledger scheduled the appointment.
When Mr. Ledger did not respond to a knock on the bedroom door, the housekeeper and the masseuse opened the bedroom and found Mr. Ledger unconscious. They shook him, but he did not respond. They immediately called the authorities and moved Mr. Ledger to the floor, the police said.
"There was no indication of a disturbance," Deputy Police Commissioner Paul J. Browne said. He said officers who checked the apartment found other prescription medications it in the bathroom. He said that there was no sign that Mr. Ledger had been drinking and that no illegal drugs were found in the apartment.
Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the city's chief medical examiner, said that investigators were on the scene on Tuesday afternoon and that an autopsy would be performed on Wednesday to determine the cause of death. His body was removed from the apartment at 6:30 p.m.
Julie McIntosh, a stylist in a neighboring salon, said she saw Mr. Ledger once or twice a week and thought had been living in the apartment for about six months.
"I think it's really sad," she said. "He's a really nice guy. He seemed happy."
A native of Perth, Australia, Mr. Ledger, known for his wry grin and uncontrolled blondish hair, defied typecasting throughout his career. Mr. Ledger, who was born on April 4, 1979, gained roles in children's television after he first appeared in a play for a local theater company. He decided to pursue acting as a career, appearing in Australian soap operas before moving to Hollywood in pursuit of a girlfriend.
The relationship did not last, but the move led to his first major role, opposite Julia Stiles in the teenage romance "10 Things I Hate About You," and Mr. Ledger seemed poised for a future as a heartthrob. But Mr. Ledger defied that expectation and, although he still appeared in light romantic roles in such films as "A Knight's Tale," he sought out darker, more substantive work, appearing as a prison guard in "Monster's Ball," and a heroin addict spiraling out of control in "Candy."
"People always feel compelled to sum you up, to presume that they have you and describe you," Mr. Ledger told The New York Times in an interview last year. "But there are many stories inside of me and a lot I want to achieve outside of one flat note."
Mr. Ledger's more recent films were also his most notable. His appearances as a reluctantly gay cowboy in "Brokeback Mountain" and as Bob Dylan in "I'm Not There" were both received with critical acclaim. The films were also important personally. Mr. Ledger met the actress Michelle Williams during the filming of "Brokeback Mountain." The couple have a daughter, Matilda. Although they have since separated, they appeared together in "I'm Not There" and Mr. Ledger praised Ms. Williams's performance in the film.
Elliott Puckett, an artist who lives near Ms. Williams's apartment in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, said she saw the couple walking in the neighborhood.
"I used to see them with their dry cleaning and their baby," she said.
Mr. Ledger told The Times last November that his favorite thing to do was hang out at home with his daughter. Leaving her for work, he said, was "kind of like your body has a lump in his throat."