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Beach dip a fitting farewell for Ledger

Published: 12:59PM Monday February 11, 2008 Source: Reuters

It started as a teary farewell but ended in celebration as Hollywood stars joined Heath Ledger's family and friends in a spontaneous sunset dip in memory of the young star.

Actor Rose Byrne was among a group of people who stripped off to their underwear and jumped into the water late yesterday at Perth's Cottesloe Beach, one of Ledger's favourite hometown spots.

Ledger's heartbroken former fiancee actor Michelle Williams was dragged fully-clothed into the surf for the laughter-filled send-off which came at the end of an emotional day for Ledger's mourners.

After attending a memorial service for the late actor at a private Perth girls' school, mourners gathered for a wake at the Indian Teahouse overlooking the famous beach.

And as the sun began to set, the tears gave way to laughter as some shed their clothes and ran into the water to celebrate the 28-year-old star's life.

Watching from the building's balcony was Ledger's father Kim Ledger, who at one point gave a thumbs-up to friends and family below.

It was a fitting end to a sad day in which Hollywood stars joined family and friends at a moving service for Ledger.

Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett, supermodel Gemma Ward, and Australian actors including Byrne, Bryan Brown, Michael Caton, Shane "Kenny" Jacobsen and Joel Edgerton attended the service amid tight security.

Directors Phillip Noyce and Neil Armfield, footballers Ben Cousins and David Wirrpanda plus band members from Eskimo Joe, as well as athletes and politicians also were among the mourners.

In a surprise move, Kim Ledger addressed the media before leaving home for the memorial, and said the funeral following the service would be a private family affair.

"There will only be 10 people there, immediate family and nobody else," Mr Ledger told reporters before leaving for the memorial.

"It's a pretty sad time and we're finding it difficult to cope by ourselves, let alone cope with everybody around the world.

"Having said that we do really appreciate the outpouring and the emotional support from all over the world which, suffice to say, we're luckier than most families. Most families that are in our position, our grieving position, don't have that kind of support."

Mr Ledger, his former wife Sally Ledger Bell, their daughter Kate Ledger and Michelle Williams, 27, travelled in a convoy to the memorial service at Penrhos College, a private girls' school in the south Perth suburb of Como.

Williams met Ledger in 2004 on the set of their career-changing film, Brokeback Mountain, for which Ledger was nominated for an Oscar for his role as a conflicted gay cowboy.

They had a daughter, Matilda, in October 2005, but called off their engagement last September.

Matilda was not with her mother who, clad in a cream dress, clung to Ledger's older sister Kate on their way into the school.

The service program told mourners: "This room is filled with the love we all felt for a great friend who will be missed by all of us".

"We want to thank those of you who took care of him and participated in his beautiful life."

Barbara Scott, a WA MP, said the emotional, moving and at times funny service was a "wonderful tribute" to an outstanding actor.

"It was a wonderful tribute to a wonderful West Australian, an outstanding guy with great talent," Ms Scott told Associated Press.

Blanchett, who starred in the Bob Dylan biopic I'm Not There with Ledger "gave a funny, moving eulogy about their times spent together" in the United States, Ms Scott told AAP.

Kate Ledger spoke beautifully about her childhood with her younger brother, she added.

Ledger's parents also paid tribute to their son.

Mourners watched family montages and heard some of Ledger's favourite music, including the Bob Dylan song The Times Are A Changing.

There was also a video tribute to her father from two-year-old Matilda, News Ltd reported.

Armfield, who directed Ledger in the Australian film Candy, also spoke at the service.

Ledger's family and Williams left by a side entrance before going to Fremantle Cemetery, where it is understood they held a small, private cremation service ahead of the wake.

The final memorial came after two farewells in Los Angeles, one a 1,000-strong, star-studded tribute for Ledger.

Ledger was found dead in his Manhattan apartment on January 22.

The New York Medical Examiner's Office ruled Ledger died from an accidental overdose of prescription medications, prompting the actor's family to issue a warning against mixing prescription drugs.

Toxicology tests, released in the US on Wednesday, revealed Ledger had consumed a powerful mix of five prescription painkillers and anti-anxiety pills and an over-the-counter antihistamine.