Australian Actor Heath Ledger seemed to detest the paparazzi and the media. He spat at a pack of them once, there was an incident with a water pistol at a premiere in Sydney, and then there was the round of movie promos in which he, clearly bored, dared to rudely peel an orange while being interviewed by Sunrise. The Australian media were most offended until Ledger made a series of apologetic phone calls and letters. Then they swooned.

Now, the media are devouring him in death.

In the five hours or so since Ledger’s body was discovered in his apartment beside some sleeping pills, Fox News has speculated as to how the death will affect the returns of the new movie Batman — The Dark Knight, ‘friends’ have come out moments after hearing of the death to speak publicly, the editor of Who Magazine has speculated on Sky News about whether they’ll put him on the cover, and talkback radio hosts have been asking listeners to call in with their favourite Ledger movies. Oh, and Richard Wilkins has weighed in.

At least 50 photographers surrounded the ambulance as Ledger’s body was removed an hour and a half ago. 

Crikey presents a timeline of ickyness:

7.30am (3.30pm US local time): Heath Ledger is discovered unconscious next to some sleeping pills in his New York apartment by his housekeeper. Paramedics are called to the scene but according to a later statement by New York police, Ledger is pronounced dead at the scene.

8.15am: Celebrity news site TMZ reports that Heath Ledger is dead:

Heath Ledger

8.30am: FOX news begins reporting the news.

8.35am: 3AW and 2UE report that Fox News is reporting that Ledger is dead.

8.40am: Ledger’s Wikipedia entry is updated with his death:

Heath Ledger

8.45am: The death hits the internet news sites. The story explodes all over Google News as Queensland’s Courier Mail becomes one of the first to file the story, followed by The NY Times, Wall Street Journal, The Age, etc.

8.50am: Jon Faine on Melbourne 774 reports the story. Says they will be trying to find friends of Ledger to speak to.

8.52am: Neil Mitchell on Melbourne 3AW says he’s “trying to talk to some of his friends here in Australia”.

8.55am: The New York Times runs the story.

9am: ABC News tops its news bulletin with the story.

9.20am: Former star of The Secret Life of Us Samuel Johnson is interviewed by Jon Faine on Melbourne ABC 774. Johnson says he didn’t work with Heath but they “crossed paths” and he thinks he speaks “on behalf of the acting community” when he says he’s shattered by the death.

9.20am: News.com.au files a story entitled ‘Actors who died young’ … “Heath Ledger joins a long list of Hollywood stars who died of a drug overdose at a young age. Actor River Phoenix died of drug-induced heart failure in 1993 at the age of 23, after taking a mix of heroin and cocaine in Johnny Depp’s Hollywood night club, The Viper Room.”

9.24am: Jon Faine interviews a spokesperson from the New York Police.  

9.34am: Enterprising emails such as the one below start landing in inboxes:

Subject: HEATH LEDGER

With the sad news breaking about the death of Australian actor Heath Ledger, I just wanted to let you know that we can supply pictures of Heath from our recent release [celebrity title]. [The author] has spent a life photographing celebrities and had spent time with him at a couple of US events. If needed, [the author] can also provide an insight into Heath’s character and what he thinks this loss will mean to the acting industry.

Publicity Manager, (unidentified) Publishing House

9.41am: Faine replays an ABC TV interview with Heath Ledger.

9.55am: NY Times reports that Ledger was found in starlet Mary Kate Olsen’s apartment, a statement which is later proved false.

9.55am: Neil Mitchell on 3AW promises an upcoming interview with “the person who discovered Heath Ledger”.

10am: Talkback calls start trickling in:

ABC 774 Melbourne (Melbourne)
Mornings
Jon Faine
Caller Amelie recalls an incident in which Ledger held up a sign for her daughter’s friend. Faine recalls a similar incident in which Will Smith talked to the crowd in Melbourne.

ABC 774 Melbourne (Melbourne)
Mornings
Jon Faine
Caller Lauren was an extra in the film Ned Kelly, and says Ledger made an effort to converse with everyone, and remembered her later in Melbourne. Lauren sends out a tribute to his family and all mourning families.

ABC 774 Melbourne (Melbourne)
Mornings
Jon Faine
– Caller Paul believes Ledger may have not received what he expected from fame and it could have been his undoing.

ABC 774 Melbourne (Melbourne)
Mornings
Jon Faine
– Caller Ian says his children enjoyed A Knight’s Tale and he liked Two Hands.

ABC 774 Melbourne (Melbourne)
Mornings Jon Faine
– Caller Evie says she feels sorry for Ledger’s two year old daughter and says her favourite film was A Knight’s Tale.

ABC 936 Hobart (Hobart)
Statewide Mornings
Roisin McCann 
Fiona wishes to convey her sympathies to the family of Heath Ledger, Aust’n actor, because she went into shock when she heard about it.

2UE (Sydney)
Breakfast Mike Carlton and Sandy Aloisi
Caller Jarred (with a US accent) discusses the death of Heath Ledger, actor. He refers to reports on ‘pagesix.com’. Jarred says that people are very upset. Carlton and Aloisi continue to read from reports about his death.

10.06am: Richard Wilkins is interviewed on Sky News. “I’ve gotta say I was very surprised when he and Michelle broke up… I was surprised and saddened to learn that they split…. He seemed to be getting on with life and was dating a string of beautiful people… none of us are ever going to know who knows, we can talk about it endlessly but all we know is a man is dead and far too young.”

10.21am: The deputy editor of New Idea speaks to Sky News. “Our thoughts go out to his family in Australia…we’re respecting their privacy. Let’s be honest though this is a huge story for us here and we’re expecting an official statement very soon… And to think as he was in bed dying, just a few kilometres away was his daughter Matilda.”

10.25am: Bud Tingwell talks to Jon Faine about working with Ledger on the Ned Kelly movie.

10.30am: (6.30pm local time): Body removed, surrounded by a sea of flashbulbs. 6.30pm local time.

10.31am: Fiona Connolly from The Daily Telegraph interviewed on Sky. The Daily Telegraph online leads with this quote:

Heath Ledger

10.32am: 688 comments so far on news.com.au on Ledger’s death, most from fans of Ten Things I Hate About You. Pearlers such as:

This is the biggest shock! I woke up this morning to my phone ringing. It was mum telling me what happened, couldn’t believe it. I have a folder Full of photos and info about it that I’ve made since year 8. Now i’m 20. I bet it’ll be worth a bit now.. Not that ill ever sell it.. sarah

Posted by: Sarah 11:26am today
Comment 683 of 688

10.36am: Neil Mitchell on 3AW interviews the Perth casting agent, Annie Murtagh-Monks, who “discovered” Heath Ledger. She says she first saw Ledger perform in a school play at Guildford Grammar School. She recalls that Ledger had an amazing natural ability to connect imaginatively and had a great screen presence. She adds that he was easy to direct. She asserts that Ledger did not seem to be one who lived in the fast lane. She reveals that she had heard that he had a lot of trouble sleeping during his time performing as The Joker.

10.39am: Executive editor of Who Magazine speaks to Sky News. “we first interviewed Heath Ledger when he was in a TV show called Raw…. As we interviewed him over the years his hatred and mistrust of the media seemed to get deeper…”  Yes, but will he go on the cover? “well, he’s a different character to Steve Irwin…”

10.47am: Rahni Sadler from Seven News speaks to Sky News from New York. “There are dozens and dozens of cameras here… I know the boys from The Chaser would say ‘everyone becomes a hero when they die” but he was a really lovely guy. He wasn’t a paparazzi type bloke… he didn’t like all the hoo ha.” Hmmm.

10.50am: ABC News America reports on the death. All the major US news outlets follow.

10.52am: The president of Warner Bros puts out a public statement.

10.53am: Prime Minister Kevin Rudd releases a public statement. “A tragedy. We’ve lost one of the nation’s finest actors in the prime of his life.”

10.58am: Sky News reports that the autopsy results are not due until Wed morning US time. “..so really we won’t know anything for another 12 hours.”

Cue the speculation: “… it’s certainly not out of the realms of possibility that he was on medication and that it was an accidental overdose of that….”

11.00am: The Age hits the height of good taste with their headline:

Heath Ledger

11.28am: TMZ reports that Ledger had pneumonia at the time of his death.

11.29am: Sky New reports that Ledger may have been suffering from pneumonia. Adds that experts can’t report if the pills discovered near him “were lying loosely around his body or in jars.”

11.36am: TMZ reports that they’ve been “contacted by reps of Heath’s family. They’ve been told by police that Heath’s death was absolutely accidental. They are particularly distraught over media buzz that he may have taken his own life. We’re told he was not that kind of person.”

11.59am: The Ledger tributes and retrospectives begin to be posted.

12.25 pm: TMZ.com, which has become the leading authority on the story, posts footage of Lindsay Lohan “distraught over Heath’s death.”

12.26pm: TMZ reports that Ledger’s former fiance Michelle Williams is “devastated”. “We’re told that “words cannot describe” the pain she is in over the news about the father of her child, Matilda Rose. We’re told she is on a plane heading to NY right now.”