Natasha Richardson mourned as a ‘wonderful woman’
NEW YORK ñ Tributes have begun to pour in from across the show business generations for Natasha Richardson, the Tony Award-winning actress who died after suffering a head injury on a ski slope.
“She was a wonderful woman and actress and treated me like I was her own,” said Lindsay Lohan, who as a preteen starred with Richardson in a remake of “The Parent Trap” in 1998. “My heart goes out to her family. This is a tragic loss.”
Actress Judi Dench told the BBC that Richardson was “a really great actress” who had “an incredibly luminous quality, that you seldom see, and a great sense of humor.”
“It’s just so shocking, really shocking, and I hope that everybody leaves the family quietly to somehow pick up the pieces,” Dench said.
Sam Mendes, who produced the Broadway musical “Cabaret” for which Richardson won a Tony, said, “It defies belief that this gifted, brave, tenacious, wonderful woman is gone.”
Richardson fell during a private lesson Monday at a ski resort in Quebec. She was not wearing a helmet. The 45-year-old actress was seemingly fine afterward, but about an hour later, she complained that she didn’t feel well. She was hospitalized Tuesday in Montreal and later flown to a hospital in New York.
Alan Nierob, the Los Angeles-based publicist for Richardson’s husband, Liam Neeson, confirmed her death Wednesday without giving details on the cause.
There were no details on funeral arrangements.
Neeson and Richardson’s sister, actress Joely Richardson, were seen leaving Lenox Hill hospital Wednesday. Actress Lauren Bacall also visited the hospital.
Yves Coderre, director of operations at the emergency services company that sent paramedics to the Mont Tremblant resort where Richardson suffered her fall, told The Globe and Mail newspaper Wednesday the paramedics who responded were told they were not needed.
“They never saw the patient,” Coderre told The Globe and Mail. “So they turned around.”
Coderre said another ambulance was called later to Richardson’s luxury hotel. By that point, her condition had gotten worse and she was rushed to a hospital.
Richardson’s career highlights included the film “Patty Hearst” and a Tony-winning performance in a stage revival of “Cabaret.”
Richardson was a proper Londoner who came to love the noise of New York, an elegant blonde with large, lively eyes, a bright smile and a hearty laugh.
Jane Fonda on Wednesday recalled meeting a young Richardson on the set of “Julia,” the 1977 film Fonda starred in opposite Richardson’s mother, Vanessa Redgrave.
“She was a little girl but already beautiful and graceful. It didn’t surprise me that she became such a talented actor,” Fonda recalled on her blog. “It is hard to even imagine what it must be like for her family. My heart is heavy.”
As an actress, Richardson was equally adept at passion and restraint, able to portray besieged women both confessional (Tennessee Williams’ Blanche DuBois) and confined (the concubine in the futuristic horror of “The Handmaid’s Tale”).
Like other family members, she divided her time between stage and screen. On Broadway, she portrayed Sally Bowles in the 1998 revival of “Cabaret.” She also appeared in New York in a production of Patrick Marber’s “Closer” (1999) as well as the 2005 revival of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire,” in which she played Blanche opposite John C. Reilly’s Stanley Kowalski.
She met Neeson when they made their Broadway debuts in 1993, co-starring in “Anna Christie,” Eugene O’Neill’s drama about a former prostitute and the sailor who falls in love with her.
The New York Times critic Frank Rich called her “astonishing” and said she “gives what may prove to be the performance of the season.”
Her most notable film roles came earlier in her career. Richardson played the title character in Paul Schrader’s “Patty Hearst,” a 1988 biopic about the kidnapped heiress for which the actress became so immersed that even between scenes she wore a blindfold, the better to identify with her real-life counterpart.
Richardson was directed again by Schrader in a 1990 adaptation of Ian McEwan’s “The Comfort of Strangers” and, also in 1990, starred in the screen version of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
She later co-starred with Neeson in “Nell” and with Mia Farrow in “Widows’ Peak.” More recent movies, none of them widely seen, included “Wild Child,” “Evening” and “Asylum.”
Richardson was born in London in 1963, the performing gene inherited not just from her parents (Redgrave and director Tony Richardson), but from her maternal grandparents (Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson), an aunt (Lynn Redgrave) and an uncle (Corin Redgrave). Her younger sister, Joely Richardson, also joined the family business.
She also is survived by two sons, Micheal, 13, and Daniel, 12.
Friends and family members remembered Natasha as an unusually poised child, perhaps forced to grow up early when her father left her mother in the late ’60s for Jeanne Moreau. (Tony Richardson died in 1991).
Interviewed by The Associated Press in 2001, Natasha Richardson said she related well to her family if only because, “We’ve all been through it in one way or another and so we’ve had to be strong. Also we embrace life. We are not cynical about life.”
Her screen debut came at 4, when she appeared as a flower girl in “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” directed by her father, whose movies included “Tom Jones” and “The Entertainer.” The show business wand had already tapped her the year before, when she saw her mother in the 1967 film version of the Broadway show “Camelot.”
“She was so beautiful. I still look at that movie and I can’t believe it. It still makes me cry, the beauty of it,” Richardson said.
She studied at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama and was an experienced stage actress by her early 20s, appearing in “On the Razzle,” “Charley’s Aunt” and “The Seagull,” for which the London Drama Critics awarded her most promising newcomer.
She and her mother acted together, most recently on Broadway to play the roles of mother and daughter in a one-night benefit concert version of “A Little Night Music,” the Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical.
Before meeting up with Neeson, Richardson was married to producer Robert Fox, whose credits include the 1985 staging of “The Seagull” in which his future wife appeared.
She sometimes remarked on the differences between her and her second husband ó she from a theatrical dynasty and he from a working-class background in Northern Ireland.
“He’s more laid back, happy to see what happens, whereas I’m a doer and I plan ahead,” Richardson told The Independent on Sunday newspaper in 2003. “The differences sometimes get in the way but they can be the very things that feed a marriage, too.”
She once said that Neeson’s serious injury in a 2000 motorcycle accident ó he suffered a crushed pelvis after colliding with a deer in upstate New York ó had made her really appreciate life.
“I wake up every morning feeling lucky ó which is driven by fear, no doubt, since I know it could all go away,” she told The Daily Telegraph newspaper in 2003.
Natasha Richardson mourned as a ‘wonderful woman’