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Heath Ledger was battling drug addiction, depression and paparazzi before his death

Posted Oct 22 2008 4:32pm

Once again, the media vultures are swooping overhead over a fallen Hollywood figure. Unlike Britney Spears, however, this time they've captured their prey: Heath Ledger.

Much like Britney, his every moved was captured by a snapping camera or a shouting tabloid journalist who wanted to know about his romances, his break-ups as well as his reported drug abuse and mental illness.

Their pursuit came to an end Tuesday, just as the media and paparazzi attention was picking up. Is it any wonder that the intense media pressure could have been the tip of the iceberg that broke this promising young actor?

As I wrote earlier in the week - in a post about Britney - mental health professionals such as Debra Wentz, chief executive officer of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health Agencies, said common sense dictates that media pressure "can certainly stress anyone out, and so that added pressure on someone who is vulnerable can lead to more symptomatic behavior."

"I don't envy anyone in that position and believe they get more than they bargain for, as part of their fame," she said.

That added pressure of media attention pushes the behavior to a level that's frightening, dangerous and self-destructive.

"Often people say, 'If you can't stand the heat, get out of the fire,' " Wentz said. "But a young, vulnerable person who has an illness may not be able to exercise such good judgment.

From the Herald Sun of Australia:

Heath Ledger was battling drug addiction and depression in the lead-up to his tragic death yesterday.

The acclaimed actor was found naked and unconscious in his $26,000-a-month Manhattan apartment, surrounded by prescription anti-anxiety and sleeping pills.

Ledger's parents, Kim and Sally, and his sister, Kate, said his death was a terrible accident.

"He was a down-to-earth, generous, kind-hearted, life-loving and unselfish individual who was an inspiration to many," his father said outside the family home in Perth, Australia.

New York police sources said the signs pointed to either an accidental overdose or suicide.

Ledger, 28, reportedly spent several days at a drug rehabilitation clinic, battling an addiction to heroin, after his split from fiancee Michelle Williams in September.

The couple met on the set of " Brokeback Mountain," the film that netted Ledger an Oscar nomination for his role as a gay cowboy.

Last night, Williams was on a flight from Sweden to New York with the couple's two-year-old daughter, Matilda. "It has just broken everybody's heart," said her father, Larry Williams.

After the split, Ledger moved into a luxury Soho loft boasting a private lift. But neighbours said the apartment was only partly furnished and his bed was just a mattress on the floor.

Police said they found prescription anti-anxiety and sleeping pills in the bedroom, including generic forms of Valium and Xanax.

They could not confirm reports Ledger had pneumonia.

In November, the reclusive actor said he suffered from insomnia and was regularly taking Ambien sleeping pills. Ambien, marketed in Australia as Stilnox, is not recommended for people with respiratory disease.

Ledger had just finished playing The Joker in the latest Batman movie, "The Dark Knight" -- a role that looked certain to set him up financially for the rest of his life.

Hollywood was in mourning for the intense, brooding star, who was named after Heathcliffe in " Wuthering Heights."

Cate Blanchett
, who has been nominated for two Oscars next month, said she was very saddened.

"I deeply respect Heath's work and always admired his continuing development as an artist," she said.

Neil Young - Needle And The Damage Done Lyrics

I caught you knockin'
at my cellar door
I love you, baby,
can I have some more
Ooh, ooh, the damage done.

I hit the city and
I lost my band
I watched the needle
take another man
Gone, gone, the damage done.

I sing the song
because I love the man
I know that some
of you don't understand
to keep from running out.

I've seen the needle
and the damage done
A little part of it in everyone
But every junkie's
like a settin' sun.

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