Ledger died on the afternoon of 22 January 2008 due to a drug overdose. A few months before his death, Ledger had finished filming his performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight. At the time of his death, The Dark Knight was in its editing-phase and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was in the midst of filming, in which he was playing his last role as Tony. His untimely death also affected the subsequent promotion of The Dark Knight. His role as the Joker in The Dark Knight earned him widespread acclaim and popularity from both fans and critics alike, and is often regarded as one of the greatest performances in film history. Ledger also received numerous posthumous accolades for his performance in The Dark Knight, including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, a Best Actor International Award at the 2008 Australian Film Institute Awards, the 2008 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor, the 2009 Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture, and the 2009 BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actor.
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On 27 September 2008, Ledger's father Kim stated that "the family has agreed to leave the US$16.3 million fortune to Matilda," adding: "There is no claim. Our family has gifted everything to Matilda." In October 2008, Forbes estimated Ledger's annual earnings from October 2007 through October 2008 – including his posthumous share of The Dark Knight's gross income of "US$1 billion in box office revenue worldwide" – as "US$20 million".
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After a flurry of further media speculation, on 6 August 2008, the US Attorney's Office in Manhattan closed its investigation into Ledger's death without filing any charges and rendering moot its subpoena of Olsen. With the clearing of the two doctors and Olsen, and the closing of the investigation because the prosecutors in the Manhattan US Attorney's Office "don't believe there's a viable target," it is still not known how Ledger obtained the oxycodone and hydrocodone in the lethal drug combination that killed him.
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On 4 August 2008, citing unnamed sources, Murray Weiss, of the New York Post, first reported that Mary-Kate Olsen had "refused [through her attorney, Michael C. Miller] to be interviewed by federal investigators probing the accidental drug death of her close friend Heath Ledger ... [without] ... immunity from prosecution" and that, when asked about the matter, Miller at first declined further comment. Later that day, after the police confirmed the gist of Weiss's account to the Associated Press, Miller issued a statement denying that Olsen supplied Ledger with the drugs causing his death and asserting that she did not know their source. In his statement, Miller said specifically, "Despite tabloid speculation, Mary-Kate Olsen had nothing whatsoever to do with the drugs found in Heath Ledger's home or his body, and she does not know where he obtained them," emphasizing that media "descriptions [attributed to an unidentified source] are incomplete and inaccurate."
For his portrayal of Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain, Ledger won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor and the Best International Actor Award from the Australian Film Institute; he was the first actor to win the latter award posthumously. He was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role and the Academy Award for Best Actor. Posthumously, he shared the 2007 Independent Spirit Robert Altman Award with the rest of the ensemble cast, the director, and the casting director for the film I'm Not There, which was inspired by the life and songs of American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. In the film, Ledger portrayed a fictional actor named Robbie Clark, one of six characters embodying aspects of Dylan's life and persona.