9 MAY 2008

Just weeks before his untimely death in January left a hole in Hollywood and devastated those who loved him, Heath Ledger sat for an Australian artist pal while on holiday in his home town of Perth. And this week, in a fitting tribute to the late actor, the resulting portrait won a top Australian art prize.

The work by Vincent Fantauzzo, which depicts a sombre, bare-chested Heath shadowed on either side by images of himself whispering in his ear, was awarded the people's choice award at the Archibald Prize Exhibition on Thursday. More than 32,000 art lovers voted for the painting, which drew record numbers to the exhibition in Sydney.

Vincent explains that the whispering in the painting represents Heath's inner thoughts which, as a private man, he was inclined to withhold. Though he recalls the actor being relaxed and happy as he sat for the painting, the artist admits the serious-looking main image took on a new significance after Heath's death from an accidental overdose in New York.

Photo: ©
Painted weeks before the actor died, the portrait depicts a sombre, bare-chested Heath flanked by images of himself whispering in his earPhoto: © Getty Images
Photo: ©
The painting is the work of Vincent Fantauzzo, an artist pal from Heath's Perth hometown Photo: © Getty Images
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