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I WAS ON MY WAY TO HEATH WHEN HE DIED; Model Helena tells of her shock over film idol's death.

Byline: By Robert Stansfield

SUPERMODEL Helena Christensen was on her way to visit actor Heath Ledger when she learned of his death, she revealed last night.

The Danish model, who was linked to Ledger after his split from actress Michelle Williams last year, said she got the news on Tuesday as she headed to his flat in SoHo, New York.

Last night, Helena, 39, said: "I am just beyond sad at this point and shocked. I had just left him a message and heard his voice on the machine.

"He was such a special and genuine person, so extraordinarily talented because he was so raw and honest with his feelings."

And a film director friend of the 28-year-old Brokeback Mountain star said Ledger had asked him to call him in the morning when they spoke on Monday night, hours before his death. Shekhar Kapur, who directed him in the 2002 film The Four Feathers, tried to ring him but his calls went unanswered.

As the Record revealed in yesterday's later editions, Ledger was found dead in the afternoon by his housekeeper.

Yesterday, Kapur said: "He told me he could not see me that night but really wanted to meet me the next day.

"He made me promise that I would call him in the morning and wake him up.

"I tried. Little did I know that his soul had already left his body.

"He was one of the most gentle, most honest, most caring and most compassionate persons I had ever met."

Post-mortem results on Ledger, who was nominated for an Oscar for Brokeback Mountain, proved inconclusive yesterday as speculation mounted that he had died from an accidental overdose of sleeping pills.

Pills - both prescription and non-prescription - were reported to have been found by his body.

But his distraught family in Australia insisted he would not have killed himself.

Ledger recently admitted taking the controversial prescription drug Ambien to combat insomnia. And according to unconfirmed reports in the US, the actor had also been suffering from pneumonia.

The drug has been blamed for a series of bizarre and dangerous side-effects and one GP said last night it was unsuitable for people with respiratory problems.

He added: "In the product information, they do actually caution against use in people with severe respiratory conditions. Pneumonia can obviously cause respiratory problems."

The US medical examiner's office said further tests to determine the cause of death could take around 10 days.

The actor showed no signs of troubles as he filmed in London last week, sources said.

And in Perth, his home town, Ledger's father Kim read out a statement in which he insisted the death was an accident.

With his ex-wife Sally and their daughter Kate by his side, he said: "We confirm the very tragic, untimely and accidental passing of our dearly loved son, brother and doting father of Matilda."

He went on to describe his son as "a down-to-earth, generous, kind-hearted, life-loving and selfless individual who was extremely inspirational to many".

Kim added: "Heath has touched so many people on so many different levels during his short life that few had the pleasure of truly knowing him."

Ledger had a two-year-old daughter, Matilda, by Michelle. The couple met while filming Brokeback Mountain but split last year.

Since then, Ledger has been linked with beauties including Helena and another model, Gemma Ward.

Michelle was filming in Sweden when she learned the news and was pictured yesterday looking distraught. She and Matilda are flying back to the US.

In one of his last interviews, Ledger described taking Ambien for insomnia while working on the Batman movie The Dark Knight, in which he plays The Joker.

He said after one tablet had no effect, he took a second and fell into a stupor, only to wake an hour later with his "mind still racing".

Veteran film star Jack Nicholson, who played The Joker in a previous Batman film, said the tragedy could be a warning about the dangers of certain sleeping pills.

Nicholson said he had taken Ambien - marketed in Britain as Zolpidem - and it had serious side-effects.

He explained: "I warn people about Ambien. I almost drove off a cliff once. I don't take sleeping pills but somebody said, 'Take this, it's mild'.

"I got a call in the middle of the night, kind of an emergency, and I almost drove off a cliff 50 yards from my house."

CAPTION(S):

HEARTBROKEN: Helena. Main pic, Heath filming in London last week; WARNING: Nicholson also took sleeping pills; GRIEF: Heath's parents Kim and Sally with his sister Kate outside their home in Perth. Below, a fan places a photo at a makeshift memorial in New York IAN LAWRENCE / SPLASH NEWS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES/REX FEATURES
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jan 24, 2008
Words:791
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