What happened
Oscar-nominated actor Heath Ledger was found dead in his Manhattan apartment on Tuesday. The Australian-born star of Brokeback Mountain was lying nude and face down in the bedroom floor, with a bottle of prescription sleeping pills nearby. (The New York Times, free registration) An initial autopsy was inconclusive. Police said Ledger's death appeared to have been accidental. (AP in the New York Post, free registration)

What the commentators said
“It is of course always tragic when someone so young (he was just 28) passes so needlessly,” said Christopher Orr in a New Republic blog, “and more tragic still given that he had a young daughter with actress Michelle Williams. But it is also saddening that the world has been denied whatever his fierce talent might have offered in the coming years.”

Hollywood no longer nurtures the kind of talent Ledger brought to the big screen, said Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle. He “had an old-fashioned manliness,” but one that made him more complex than the stars of “America’s macho period.” Ledger was "at his best playing men in turmoil, men in trouble, men suffering from deep wounds to the spirit.”

It would be a shame to remember such an artist for the circumstances of his death, said Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch blog, instead of his “all-too-brief but triumphant acting career.” His spectacular performance in Brokeback Mountain will always stand out, but Ledger’s “early, lighter work”—including “his goofy romantic lead” in the teen-Shakespeare farce 10 Things I Hate About You and “his sly, tongue-in-cheek turn as a medieval sports hero in A Knight's Tale”—were also a joy to watch.

Fans and movie stars alike are devastated at the loss, said Borys Kit and Georg Szalai in The Hollywood Reporter. Ledger was “not a marquee movie star,” but his Oscar-nominated performance as a gay cowboy in Brokeback Mountain offered a glimpse of a rare talent. Ledger “took his craft seriously rather than cashing in on his heartthrob looks.”

Ledger was “hailed as one of the great hopes among his generation of actors,” said Geoff Boucher, Matea Gold, and Paul Lieberman in the Los Angeles Times (free registration). That may be why—even in an era when the “breathless nature of the celebrity news coverage has left many fans jaded”—his death was such a “brutal shock”.