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Heath Ledger wins best supporting actor Oscar

LOS ANGELES, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Australia’s Heath Ledger, who died last year, won the best supporting actor Oscar on Sunday for his maniacal performance as the Joker in Batman movie “The Dark Knight.”

Ledger, who died at age 28 of an accidental prescription overdose, was only the second actor to receive a posthumous Oscar. Two months after his death from a heart attack, Peter Finch won for his role as a TV anchorman in the 1976 film “Network”.

Ledger’s Oscar was also a rare exception to the rule that Academy Award voters overlook action-hero movies, and those who perform in them, for the industry’s highest honors.

“This award tonight .... validated Heath’s quiet determination to be truly accepted accepted by you all here, his peers, in an industry that he so loved,” Ledger’s father, Kim, said, accepting the Oscar on his son’s behalf with Ledger’s mother, Sally Bell, and the actor’s sister, Kate Ledger.

“We have been truly overwhelmed by the honor and respect bestowed on him with this award,” Sally Bell said.

The publicity-shy Australian actor was found dead in his New York apartment five months before the July 2008 release of “The Dark Knight”.

His compelling performance, together with worldwide interest after his death, helped power the Batman sequel to a global box-office gross of more than $1 billion.

Ledger was nominated for an Oscar for his 2005 role as a gay cowboy in “Brokeback Mountain” but did not win the prize.

This time, Ledger picked up virtually every award for playing the Joker.

In recent weeks, he won a Golden Globe, British BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild and a slew of U.S. and Australian critics awards. Movie actors, directors and producers have greeted each announcement with standing ovations.

Ledger’s Oscar will go eventually to his daughter with actress Michelle Williams, his former fiancee, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided. Matilda Ledger, now 3, will receive it when she turns 18.

Although never an A-list global celebrity before his death, Ledger earned widespread attention in 2001 as the jousting squire in the action romance “A Knight’s Tale” and later won critical acclaim for smaller parts in “Monster’s Ball” and the Bob Dylan-inspired movie “I’m Not There”.

Ledger’s Australian family flew to Los Angeles to take part in Sunday’s Oscar ceremony.

Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Cynthia Osterman