- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 19, 2009

UPDATED:

NEW YORK (AP) — Natasha Richardson, a gifted and precocious heiress to acting royalty whose career highlights included the film “Patty Hearst” and a Tony-winning performance in a stage revival of “Cabaret,” died Wednesday at age 45 after suffering a head injury from a skiing accident.

Alan Nierob, the Los Angeles-based publicist for Richardson’s husband Liam Neeson, confirmed her death Wednesday night in a written statement.

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

The statement did not give details on the cause of death for Richardson, who suffered a head injury when she fell on a beginner’s trail during a private ski lesson at the luxury Mont Tremblant ski resort in Quebec. She was hospitalized Tuesday in Montreal and later flown to a hospital in New York City.

Family members had been seen coming and going from the New York hospital where Richardson was reportedly taken.

Vanessa Redgrave, Richardson’s mother, arrived in a car with darkened windows and was taken through a garage when she arrived at the Lenox Hill Hospital on Manhattan’s Upper East Side at around 5 p.m. Wednesday. An hour earlier, Richardson’s sister, Joely, arrived alone and was swarmed by the media as she entered through the back of the hospital.

As reporters and photographers waited outside the hospital for word on Richardson’s condition earlier in the day, some passers-by stopped and expressed their sorrow over the turn of events.

One passer-by, Adrienne Cleere, said she was going to light a candle for the actress at a Roman Catholic church near the hospital.

“Everyone should pray for their two sons,” she said.

A reporter from the Toronto Star reported seeing a distraught Neeson crouched inside the back of an ambulance Tuesday at Montreal’s Sacre-Coeur hospital as Richardson, wrapped in blankets and with tubes covering her face, was loaded inside. Neeson had immediately left the Toronto set of his upcoming movie, “Chloe,” to be by her side in Montreal, a publicist for the film said.

Later that evening, a somber looking Vanessa Redgrave was seen in photographs walking into Lenox Hill. Two boys, identified in photos as her sons, Micheal Richard Antonio Neeson and Daniel Jack Neeson, and a young woman identified as niece Daisy Bevan were seen leaving the hospital early Wednesday. Richardson’s condition and the specifics of her injury could not immediately be determined.

Richardson is the elder daughter of Oscar-winning Redgrave and the late director Tony Richardson. She fell during a private lesson Monday at the famed Mont Tremblant ski resort.

“We know that she has had an accident but we really do not know any more details,” said Kika Markham, who is married to Richardson’s uncle, Corin Redgrave. “We are very concerned.”

A statement from the Mont Tremblant resort said Richardson fell on a beginners trail and later reported not feeling well.

“She did not show any visible sign of injury but the ski patrol followed strict procedures and brought her back to the bottom of the slope and insisted she should see a doctor,” said the statement from the resort, about 80 miles northwest of Montreal.

The ski resort said the instructor and a member of the ski patrol accompanied Richardson to her hotel, where they again recommended she be seen by a doctor. Mont Tremblant spokeswoman Catherine Lacasse said Richardson said she seemed fine at first.

“An hour later she said she didn’t feel well. She had a headache, so we sent her to the hospital,” Lacasse said. “There were no signs of impact and no blood, nothing.”

Richardson’s films include “Gothic,” “A Month in the Country,” “Nell” (in which she appeared with her future husband), “The Parent Trap” and “Maid in Manhattan.”

Trained at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama, Richardson has had extensive stage experience in the West End and Broadway. She won a Tony in 1998 for playing Sally Bowles in a revival of “Cabaret.”

Her maternal grandparents were the actors Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson, and her uncle Corin and aunt Lynn Redgrave are both actors. Joely Richardson is also an actress, best known for starring in the TV series “Nip/Tuck.”

In January, Richardson and her mother played the roles of mother and daughter in a one-night benefit concert version of “A Little Night Music,” the Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical, at Studio 54 in New York.

She married Neeson in 1994; their sons are 13 and 12.

Associated Press writers Karen Matthews in New York, Jill Lawless in London, Amy Luft in Montreal and Sandy Cohen in Los Angeles, and videographer Alicia Rancilio in New York contributed to this report.

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