Natasha Richardson, Tony-Winning Actress, Dies Following Skiing Accident

News   Natasha Richardson, Tony-Winning Actress, Dies Following Skiing Accident Natasha Richardson, a Tony Award winner for her performance in Cabaret and a member of Britain's most exalted acting family, died March 18 following a skiing accident in Canada.

Natasha Richardson
Natasha Richardson

The 45-year-old Ms. Richardson, who was married to actor Liam Neeson and was the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave, was injured March 16 during a ski lesson at the Mont Tremblant ski resort in Montreal. She was later taken to the Hôpital du Sacré-Coeur de Montréal. Her husband, actor Liam Neeson, who was filming in Toronto, left the set on March 16 to be with his wife.

Ms. Richardson was flown to Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan March 17, where members of her family reportedly said their goodbyes.

A statement released by the family March 18 stated, "Liam Neeson, his sons, and the entire family are shocked and devastated by the tragic death of their beloved Natasha. They are profoundly grateful for the support, love and prayers of everyone, and ask for privacy during this very difficult time."

Ms. Richardson had recently participated in a gala reading of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music to benefit the Roundabout. Richardson played the role of Desirée Armfeldt with her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, as Madame Armfeldt.

The blonde actress possessed a luminous, open-faced attractiveness quite in contrast to the more reserved, classical beauty of her mother. Her large long-lashed eyes radiated a natural sparkle and her mobile mouth often broke into a disarming grin. Both actresses, however, were amply endowed with talent. Onstage, Ms. Richardson had an easy sensuality and natural exuberance, as well as an inner vulnerability. Those qualities suited her well as Sally Bowles in the dark and celebrated Sam Mendes-Rob Marshall revival of Cabaret in 1998. She won a Tony Award for her performance.  

Natasha Richardson with Lynn Redgrave, Vanessa Redgrave and Liam Neeson
photo by Aubrey Reuben

She returned to Broadway the next year in Patrick Marber's caustic play about modern relations between men and women, Closer, netting a Drama Desk Award nomination; and in the 2005 Roundabout Theatre Revival of A Streetcar Named Desire.

Natasha Richardson was born on May 11, 1963, into a clan steeped in theatre history. Her father was director Tony Richardson, and her grandparents were Olivier contemporary Michael Redgrave and actress Rachel Kempson. She called Lynn Redgrave aunt and Corin Redgrave uncle. Unsurprisingly, she entered the family business at an early age.

"She had much of the same qualities, I think, that Vanessa had as a young girl," her Uncle Corin told Playbill.com in 1999. "Her father, Tony Richardson, encouraged both girls, both her and Joely. He saw them as performers right from the moment they were born." Natasha's parents split up when she was still young.

She made an uncredited film debut at the age of four in a movie directed by her father, 1968's "The Charge of the Light Brigade." Trained at London's Central School of Speech and Drama, she began her professional stage career at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, England. In 1985 Ms. Richardson made a splash in the West End appearing as Nina opposite her mother's Arkadina in a revival of The Seagull. For her work, she won the London Drama Critics' Most Promising Newcomer Award. But she recalled the experience as "scary. The first day, I was suddenly aware that I'm on the stage with this overwhelming actress. It made me want to run and hide."

 

Alan Cumming and Natasha Richardson with their Tony Awards
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Soon after, she played Ophelia in Hamlet and starred in a London stage production of High Society, adapted from the Cole Porter-scored film.

Her Broadway debut, in a 1993 Roundabout Theatre Company revival of Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie, proved momentous well beyond winning her plaudits and her first Tony Award nomination. The smoldering chemistry that critics spotted between her and her co-star Liam Neeson was only partly acted; the two were married in 1994. The on-stage courtship has since become one of the most-cherished tales of theatre-born romance in Broadway history. "Theatre has been very good to me," she said. "It gave me Liam and it gave me a Tony."

Mr. Neeson survives her, as do their children Michael Richard Antonio Neeson and Daniel Jack Neeson; her mother Vanessa; and her sister Joely Richardson. Ms. Richardson was previously married to British producer Robert Fox.

Films soon followed her success on stage. Among them were "The Handmaid's Tale," "The Comfort of Strangers," "Nell" with Neeson, and, perhaps most famously, a 1998 remake of the film comedy "The Parent Trap," in which she played mother to a young Lindsay Lohan.”

As an adult, she spent as much time in America as England. Talking in 1993, she said. "Do I think of myself as English? I don't feel very English. I don't. There are things that I love about Europe, but I find with American people there is an energy and an enthusiasm you don't find in Europe. I respond to that."

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