In January 2008 the world was shocked when actor Heath Ledger died following an accidental overdose. His father Kim is in Rotorua to speak at an addiction conference and sat down with Rebecca Malcolm.

Heath Ledger's dad says he will never get over the shock of his son's death - but is speaking out about the dangers of prescription drug misuse in a bid to save other families from going through something similar.

Speaking to the Rotorua Daily Post ahead of his talk at the Cutting Edge Addiction Conference tomorrow, Kim Ledger described his son as a vibrant man full of life before he died after mixing prescription drugs.

The Australian was a Hollywood star known for his roles in films including Brokeback Mountain, A Knight's Tale and The Patriot. One of his last roles, as the Joker in The Dark Knight, earned him a posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, as well as a Golden Globe award.

Mr Ledger said while it had taken the family "a bit of time" to come to terms with what happened, he believed speaking out was something his son would have done if the situation was different.


"I kind of came to the realisation perhaps if one of his close family members lost their life as a result of the same thing, I think he would probably speak out even though he was very shy and spoke very few words.

"It took all of us a bit of time to come to terms with the loss... and you never get over it, you learn to live with it. "

Mr Ledger said he found out about his son's death after being phoned by a business associate and seeing it on the television.

"It was such a shock to lose someone that way, when one day he's just so bloody vital and everywhere. And he was, he was one of these kids that never slept from the age of 2 ... he never stopped."

Mr Ledger said Heath's older sister Kate was speaking to him on the phone the day before he died, warning him not to take sleeping tablets with the mixture of prescription drugs he was on to fix his pneumonia.

"She said 'you can't do that. You don't know what you're doing'. He said 'Katie, Katie, I'll be fine'. You know, a 28-year-old cavalier boy who knows everything. Like all the boys do. That was the last time anybody spoke to him. Nine or 10 hours later he was found."

8 Sep, 2016 9:00am
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He was found dead in his apartment the next day.

Actor Heath Ledger arrives at The London Party at the Spencer House on February 18, 2006 in London, England. (Photo by MJ Kim/Getty Images)
Actor Heath Ledger arrives at The London Party at the Spencer House on February 18, 2006 in London, England. (Photo by MJ Kim/Getty Images)

Mr Ledger said he began to educate himself on the issues surrounding prescription drugs - both the lethal dangers of combining several and the addiction issues - after being approached to be the patron of ScriptWise in Australia.

ScriptWise is a not for profit organisation that aims to prevent prescription medication misuse and overdose fatalities in Australia.

"I started educating myself on the problem and it is quite massive and it comes at you in several ways."

He said some found themselves becoming hooked after being prescribed painkillers as the result of sickness or accident.

"Or It can be the mixing of drugs that can cause the same problems we faced with our boy."

Mr Ledger said he wanted to see more done around the awareness of the misuse of prescription medicines.

"You can just be so caught out."

He said the issue needed to be talked about. He also believed some sort of real time monitoring which allowed doctors the ability to see those "shopping" for prescription drugs was needed.

Mr Ledger said he was initially angry, and was being chased by the FDA in New York to help them prosecute the doctors who had issued the drugs. But he believed the fact his son had the mixture of drugs he did was more because of his busy lifestyle and getting new prescriptions after forgetting others in different cities.

He said while his son was "brilliant" his personal life was "a bit chaotic" and when he visited Heath's apartment after his death there were prescriptions lying around the place.

Mr Ledger said the fact Heath had been home just weeks earlier surfing at 5am and then was suddenly gone was "mindbending".

"It was just a shock because he was such a healthy, vital young guy."

Since learning more about prescription drug misuse and addiction Mr Ledger said he had heard many tragic stories.

"It's right across the board. I was surprised... it's not selective."

Mr Ledger said his journey since becoming involved with ScriptWise had been a "real eye opener".

He said in medicine cabinets around the country there were mixtures of medicines that could be dangerous.

He said parents also needed to educate their children.

"We warn them about some of the social drugs but don't really warn them about pharmaceuticals."

Mr Ledger said he remembered his son as "just so kind and loving to everybody".

"He was a young man who had the best sense of humour. We're just so, so proud of what he achieved in such a short space of time.

"Every single thing he did, he did by himself.

"It was just of like he was in a rush. He was always so busy."

He remembered his son's kindness, gentleness and "beautiful disposition".

"He was such a giving individual, such a beautiful child... he was just so kind and loving to everybody.

"His world he shared with his friends in the loveliest way."

Mr Ledger will speak tomorrow at the conference.