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Posted at 10:39 AM ET, 02/ 6/2008

Ledger Died of Accidental Overdose

By Liz Kelly


The AP is reporting that Heath Ledger's death has been ruled an accidental overdose. has obtained a copy of the just-released medical examiner's report. The report states that Ledger death was "accidental," resulting from the "abuse of prescription medications," including oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam, and doxylamine.

Ledger's family immediately released a statement reading, in part, "Today's results put an end to speculation, but our son's beautiful spirit and enduring memory will forever remain in our hearts," and "Heath's accidental death serves as a caution to the hidden dangers of combining prescription medication, even at low dosage."

Photo Gallery: Heath Ledger, 1979 - 2008

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By Liz Kelly  | February 6, 2008; 10:39 AM ET
Categories:  Celebrities  
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Holy moly... any one of those drugs would take care of MY existential angst. Poor guy. He must have been really hurting.

Posted by: WDC | February 6, 2008 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Now maybe we can leave his family alone. Rest in peace.

Posted by: jen | February 6, 2008 10:52 AM | Report abuse

From the AP Report:

"The drugs are the generic names for the OxyContin painkiller, the anti-anxiety drug Valium, Xanax,an anti-anxiety drug, and the sleep aids Restoril and Unisom. Hydrocodone is another name for ibuprofen."

" a November interview..."Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night," Ledger told The New York Times. "I couldn't stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going." He said he had taken two Ambien pills, which only gave him an hour of sleep."

Gads, poor guy. Nothing was apparently taken in excess, it was the combination that proved fatal.

Condolences to the Ledger family. This truly was senseless and preventable.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 6, 2008 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Isn't this how Anna Nicole Smith's son Daniel died? Accidental death from combo of prescibed meds taken in their correct dosage? How sad and shocking. I think I'm going to need to watch the whole "Roar" series as therapy.

Posted by: PGM | February 6, 2008 11:13 AM | Report abuse

The AP report is wrong, Hydrocodone is the generic name for Vicodin, I just got some when I had dental work, recently.

Posted by: Alex, VA | February 6, 2008 11:20 AM | Report abuse

Sad for his family. But....never mix those drugs. And in the police reports, there was no mention of any bottles of the pain pills. So where did those come from?

Posted by: it's sad | February 6, 2008 11:28 AM | Report abuse

I don't know about you guys, but if I had prescriptions for all that stuff my pharmacist warn me about drug interactions and tell me not to take them all together. This is bad medical care. I wonder how many different doctors gave all this stuff to him.

Posted by: arlington | February 6, 2008 11:29 AM | Report abuse

I don't know about you guys, but if I had prescriptions for all that stuff my pharmacist warn me about drug interactions and tell me not to take them all together. This is bad medical care. I wonder how many different doctors gave all this stuff to him.

Posted by: arlington | February 6, 2008 11:29 AM

Exactly! If these were all gotten from the same pharmacy chain, a screen would have popped with with warnings. The problem is that people shop around (and neglect to relay what they're taking to the pharmacy), pay cash (instead of using insurance which will also flag abuse or conflicts), and go to too many doctors (and don't tell the doctors honestly what they're taking).

Face it, it's all about money and greed.

Posted by: WDC 21113 | February 6, 2008 11:41 AM | Report abuse

"And in the police reports, there was no mention of any bottles of the pain pills. So where did those come from?"

actually, there were several reports of bottles of pills found in the apartment. it said none of them appeared to be out of order (i.e. it didn't look like he had swallowed an overdose and the pills weren't strewn around the apt.) but they did say that they found pills.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 6, 2008 11:45 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: Miss Penny Lane | February 6, 2008 11:50 AM | Report abuse

As a graduate in recreational pharmacology, I can tell you those were some very heavy duty meds that Heath was taking. While we don't know the reason(s) they were prescribed for him, or the number of doctors he was seeing, be assured that he could have fallen from the top of a tall building and he wouldn't have felt a thing.

Posted by: MisterBear | February 6, 2008 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Too bad he couldn't get some real help rather than trying to medicate the pain away. RIP Heath.

Posted by: ep | February 6, 2008 11:54 AM | Report abuse

in order to take all those drugs together, you have to be either very poorly educated about what you're putting in your body, or you have to be suicidal. Let's hope in this case it was the former and that it will serve as a cautionary tale for the rest of us.

I hope he's at peace now. I'll definitely miss him.

Posted by: Emily | February 6, 2008 12:40 PM | Report abuse

You have to be poorly educated, suicidal, or have such poor emotional well-being to not care about the risks. I'm thinking the latter. I'm betting he was is such a bad state that trying to medicate it was at the forefront of his mind, not the risks. It's the same for all people with addictions.

Posted by: Columbia | February 6, 2008 12:44 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: scott | February 6, 2008 12:50 PM | Report abuse

No matter how or why it happened, it's just sad. He obviously had so many people who loved him and will miss him forever. And his beautiful little girl won't have him with her while she grows up. It's just a tragedy plain and simple.

Posted by: jaybbub | February 6, 2008 1:18 PM | Report abuse

How about being a man, facing life and not taking drugs as a crutch.

I think he was an irresponsible human being and an irresponsible father.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 6, 2008 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Go back under your bridge, 1:20.

Posted by: RiverCityRoller | February 6, 2008 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Wow, that's some pretty strong judgment there, anon. Every one of the drugs he had was legal. He had pneumonia. It's entirely reasonable to assume that he accidentally took more than he should have. Haven't you ever been so sick that you forgot whether you took the right dose of cold/flu/pain/sleeping/whatever medicine at the right time? Unless there is evidence to the contrary, and in the absence of evidence of any prior shady behavior, I'd suggest we go with that explanation, leave the judgment at the door, and hope for the best for his little girl and his family.

Posted by: Wikijen | February 6, 2008 2:32 PM | Report abuse

What I wonder is if some of those pills were Mary-Kate Olsens, left in the apartment. Unless some one has had surgery or something, why have Oxycontin around?
Anyway, how horrible for his family. I read their statement and just about cried.

Posted by: possum | February 6, 2008 3:04 PM | Report abuse

What a stupid waste.

Posted by: jelo | February 6, 2008 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Properly prescribed pharmaceuticals are the 4th leading cause of death in the US. 100,000 people die each year of FDA approved and properly prescribed medications. Just something to be aware of.... The 5th leading cause of death is infections caught during hospital stays.....

Posted by: L in DC | February 6, 2008 3:07 PM | Report abuse

Anon @ 1:20, or should I say Tom Cruise? My grandmother is in the hospital right now due to her medications causing her blood pressure to drop, she's on a lot for her various ailments. This is more common than most people think.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 6, 2008 3:17 PM | Report abuse

That's exactly what happened to Anna Nicole. Throw into the mix that he had a respiratory ailment (as did she when she died) and his breathing was probably not 100% at the time.

We're all at our most vulnerable when we're sick and just trying to keep up our busy schedules and commitments. It's easy to say "relax and learn to say no once in a while" but when others have millions of dollars riding on the project to which you are contributing, you feel committed to them. I can completely understand the stress he must have been under.

Posted by: MoCoSnarky | February 6, 2008 3:17 PM | Report abuse

hey anon, Tylenol (normal dosage) and alcohol together can cause immediate liver damage and death. Advil can cause rupture of the stomach lining leading to massive internal bleeding and death. My dr. never mnetioned to me that St Joh'ns Wort can render birth control pills ineffective, as can antibiotics. All these effects are when the meds are used normally. Ledger might well have been smart or no, educated or no, but why would he think his doctors were giving him things that would kill him?

Posted by: Anonymous | February 6, 2008 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Enablers hide under the cloak of uber compassion.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 6, 2008 3:43 PM | Report abuse

"Haven't you ever been so sick that you forgot whether you took the right dose of cold/flu/pain/sleeping/whatever medicine at the right time?"

Wikijen, this is so true. When a person is that ill, sometimes the only way to manage meds is to mark down each time you take one, along with the correct time for the next dose. I would not presume to judge a person with pneumonia as being reckless, because until it happens to you, you can't possibly imagine how much worse pneumonia can be than a cold or the flu. It's like a cold or flu raised exponentially.

Posted by: mehitabel | February 6, 2008 3:49 PM | Report abuse

"Nothing was apparently taken in excess, it was the combination that proved fatal."

Taking them all was in excess -- I don't believe for one minute he took just the prescribed dosage of all those medications. A relevant question is whether all those prescriptions were provided by ONE physician, or did Ledger shop his problems to more than one doctor and self-medicate himself with a smorgasborg of the prescriptions he was provided by several doctors.

Posted by: colorado kool aid | February 6, 2008 4:16 PM | Report abuse

I blame both drug companies and doctors for sad deaths like this. While yes it was Heath's own personal job to make sure what he is taking isn't going to kill him. It is also his doctors' job to do the same. I don't think any of pertinent information about these drugs is readily available to anyone but pharmacists and doctors. Drug companies are terribly complicit in this. As long as they find a drug that alleviates a specific symptom they don't seem to care what other effects it may have on the human body. That is why when my doctor prescribed Rat Poison for my high blood pressure I told him things that I cannot repeat on this blog.
P.S. if you are really worried about hospital infections being the 5th leading cause of death in this country look at the actual numbers and see how much lower that death rate is compared to Cancer or Heart disease. Better yet go to a country where sanitation is not so readily available (say Iraq) and let me know if secondary infection from hospital visists is something really to worry about in the States.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 6, 2008 4:36 PM | Report abuse

...the point is, he was a talented person that offered something positive to our culture, more than most in entertainment can say these days...he died unnecessarily and that's sad, now let him RIP instead of tearing him down.

Posted by: kvs | February 6, 2008 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Being prescribed that many drugs is not uncommon at all. Sad, but true. Sleep aids, anxiolytics and pain relievers all treat different things. If he had a behavioral illness like depression or bipolar disorder, his list of meds would have been doubled. There are a lot of people walking around with a dangerous cocktail of legally prescribed meds.

Poor guy.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 6, 2008 4:47 PM | Report abuse

To 4:36:
Yes, hospital-acquired infections are something to worry about. That's because the bacteria that cause these infections are often resistant to many antibiotics and also because the infections themselves are often very deep-seated (like an infected hip or knee, or a deep substernal infection following heart surgery). We're not talking common colds here...these are serious and often life-threatening. It is possible to reduce the risks, by combining good systems of care (including decent handwashing) in the facilities with aware and activated patients and families.

Posted by: seattle | February 6, 2008 5:17 PM | Report abuse

The Oxycodone was more likely Percocet than OxyContin as Percocet is much more likely to be percribed for anything less than major pain management. Hydrocodone is not Ibuprofin but one of the two ingrediants in Vicodin, the other of which is Ibuprofin. Nonetheless, with all those powerful benzos in his system it would not take too high a dose of opiates to die.

Posted by: Chris | February 6, 2008 5:20 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe Western medicine. I mean, when someone can't sleep or has serious anxiety or is dealing with depression, why don't we TREAT the problem instead of bury it? Anyone knows that what he was doing to his body was killing him. It is suicide, whether people want to believe that or not. Healthy people who want to keep living and want to be around, don't do this to themselves. It's sad that he had just given up, knowing that he had all the resources in the world to help himself. It's a tragedy that people who still choose to use instead of take care of themselves and those around them, don't see how lucky, talented and loved they really are.

I think he was one of the world's most talented people. He threw it all away and it hurts me to my very core. I'm so happy we still have his memories on our movie screens. Rest in peace Heathcliff Andrew.

Posted by: Kelly | February 6, 2008 5:28 PM | Report abuse

Wikijen, I feel your defensive letter has SOME truth to it, but I really can relate to the guy who wrote at 1:20 stating that Ledger was irresponsible. It's true that he was. He was also in a lot of pain. People don't just HAPPEN to take lethal doses of medication. They do it with the intention of numbing themselves, either physically or mentally/emotionally. It's a tough call but when you've seen people who have nothing and were given nothing in their lives, turn to help even when there are no resources available to them, those are people to be admired. Heath Ledger had amazing talent, but the one thing he definitely faulted on was the art of living well. His daughter loses because of his choices, his family has to cope with this and all of us around him who just watched him waste it on loneliness and sadness is really the major tragedy in all of this. I'm so sorry for his family's loss, especially his daughter because she will always grow up knowing that her father didn't choose her. The demons got to him before she could.

Posted by: Kelly | February 6, 2008 5:40 PM | Report abuse

Oh, come on, people. Two narcotic pain relievers, THREE separate benzodiazepines, plus Unisom? No one doctor prescribed those things for him. Doctors' names are on prescription bottles, and if the cops find that one doctor prescribed all that stuff that doctor goes to prison. No one pharmacy filled those prescriptions -- all the chains flag those combinations now and tell you that two potent narcotics + three benzodiazepines = dead. This is very sad -- he was clearly sick and he now has a little girl with no father. But don't you for one minute blame the doctors. A great way to get around the fact that it's hard to get large doses of any one of those pills is to take normal amounts of all of them. He was a drug user, he just shopped around for drugs that he didn't have to buy in Washington Square Park.

Posted by: Sarah | February 6, 2008 5:55 PM | Report abuse

-Any Vicoden left over?
(silly to waste...)

Posted by: HK | February 6, 2008 6:24 PM | Report abuse

Sarah: Don't be too quick to call him a drug user. It's expected that you should medicate when you are ill in this society, but with each subsequent drug you add, the more your judgment becomes affected.

Have you ever taken Unisom? I have (and it's over the counter). One thing people might not know is that one of Unisom's side effects after three weeks tends to be... infection-less pnuemonia. The symptoms of having it without actually having it. I know because it happened to me. You can read it in the small print. The very small print.

Posted by: omelas | February 6, 2008 8:57 PM | Report abuse

We're all trying to do the best we can in this mixed-up world. May Heath and all of us tortured souls (for who isn't?) ultimately rest in peace. And while we perservere on earth, may we give comfort to one another.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 6, 2008 9:30 PM | Report abuse

"People don't just HAPPEN to take lethal doses of medication."

Yes, they do. Every single day. Do just a little research and you'll be shocked.

Posted by: Wikijen | February 6, 2008 11:35 PM | Report abuse

I believe both Valium and Xanax can NOT cause death. I think it takes 2 tablets to feel its effects, and 40* will not kill you -- thus its 20 to 1 rate of threshold to death, as compared to alcohol which is 10 to 1. But I don't know about mixing it with Codeine in its various incarnations.

Why is the medical examiner afraid to give quantities in the body?

*Note: "The acute oral LD50 [half the rats die] in rats is ... 975 times the maximum recommended daily human dose of 10 mg/day"

Note2: There was supposedly no alcohol in his body.

Posted by: Pete from NYC | February 6, 2008 11:42 PM | Report abuse

The mother of Ledger's illegitimate child left him because of his excessive drug use. In the weeks before he passed he was often seen unwashed and stumbling around the neighborhood or at drug parties in a stupor. Just because he was famous, rich and played a gay cowboy in a movie doesn't mean that he was anything more than a common junkie. The latest news is that he was just trying to get high. Nothing special about that.

Posted by: DonKool | February 7, 2008 12:07 AM | Report abuse

I think he was a completely irresponsible person and father.

He preferred partying until all hours, living apart from his wife & child in order to do so and keeping multiple prescriptions.

His behavior illustrates that he wasn't interested in caring for himself, whether for his own sake or the sake of his daughter.

Unfortunately very pathetic.

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Posted by: Male Enhancement | February 19, 2008 9:27 PM | Report abuse

Holy crap, people. The average person takes a tylenol for a headache, drinks a cup of chamomile tea of they can't sleep and soaks in a hot tub for general aches and pains. Yes, his death was tragic, but also completely avoidable!

I guess being famous makes your aches and pains much much worse than those of we mere mortals.

I can't muster up any sympathy and if that makes me the devil, then so be it. Grandma always said, "if you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen." If being famous makes a person so damn miserable they have to medicate themselves in elephant doses, they should remove themselves from the public for five minutes and they'll certainly be forgotten.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 29, 2008 1:20 PM | Report abuse

I'm willing to bet that all the people who said this was on purpose have never had pneumonia. I have and it's HORRIBLE. My temperature was over 103 at a few points, my chest hurt and I couldn't breathe and it was just the worst thing I've ever been through. I was so out of it I couldn't get out of bed without passing out and I really thought I was going to die at some times. I wouldn't have been able to deal with my own medicine; sometimes I didn't even know what time or what day it was. An infection in your lungs affects your whole self a LOT. If it hadn't been for my husband keeping up with what I needed to take and when, I might have accidently overdosed too. In fact the first thing I thought about when I heard about Heath's death was "Why in the world was he left to take care of himself with such a bad illness?" This could have been prevented if someone had been there to take care of him. I feel so sorry for him and so lucky that I had someone to take care of me so I didn't end up in the same situation.

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