The celebrated young Australian actor Heath Ledger has been found dead in New York. Police say prescription drugs may have been a factor in his death.

AP reports that Ledger had an appointment for a massage at his Manhattan home. The housekeeper who went to let him know the masseuse had arrived found him dead at 3:26 pm on Tuesday.

Ledger was Oscar nominated for his role in 2005’s Brokeback Mountain, on the set of which he met his wife, American actress Michelle Williams. They have a daughter, but split up last year.

Aged 28, Ledger had an impressive career and had completed filming his role as the Joker in the latest Batman movie The Dark Night, due for release later this year.

Other key starring roles included A Knight’s Tale, Ned Kelly and The Patriot, but he first achieved international fame in 1999’s US high school flick 10 Things I Hate About You.

“I had such great hope for him,” said Oscar-winning actor-director Mel Gibson. “He was just taking off and to lose his life at such a young age is a tragic loss.”

In 2001, Mr Gibson had cast Ledger to play his son in the American war of independence epic, The Patriot.

His latest role was in I’m Not There, released in the UK late in 2007. He played one of the many incarnations of Bob Dylan.