Actress Natasha Richardson Dies at Age 45

BY Arts Desk  March 19, 2009 at 12:25 PM EST

Natasha Richardson; Associated Press photoBritish actress Natasha Richardson, who graced both screen and stage, died Wednesday from head injuries suffered when she fell Monday on a ski slope in Canada. She was 45.

A family spokesman announced her death in a statement. Her husband, actor Liam Neeson, and other family members were at her side.

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

Richardson won accolades for her portrayals of dynamic women in theater pieces by some of the last century’s great psychological masters. She was nominated for a Tony in 1993 for her role in “Anna Christie,” Eugene O’Neill’s story of a slovenly woman confronting the abusive men in her life. She co-starred with Neeson in the role, and they married a year later.

Despite an ordinary singing voice, Richardson won a Tony Award in 1998 for her portrayal of Sally Bowles, a singer in Weimar Berlin, in “Cabaret.” As Ben Brantley of the New York Times described it, “Ms. Richardson, you see, isn’t selling the song; she’s selling the character.”

In movies, she gained attention in tackling roles in adaptations of Tennessee Williams, Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan. Her best was the lead in “Patty Hearst,” Paul Schrader’s 1988 film. She also played characters as demanding as Zelda Fitzgerald and Blanche DuBois.

Within the acting world, Richardson was the product of a rich family stock. She was born in London in 1963 to legendary actress Vanessa Redgrave and film director Tony Richardson. Her career began early; first role was at the age of 4 in “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” directed by her father and starring her mother. Her grandfather, Sir Michael Redgrave was one of England’s most esteemed tragedians. He was playing Laertes to Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet the night Vanessa Redgrave was born; at the curtain call Olivier famously announced: “Ladies and gentlemen, tonight a star is born. Laertes has a daughter.”

But Richardson eventually left England for the United States, a place where she once noted, “No one cares about the Redgrave baggage.” It was here that she truly made a name for herself.

Richardson’s freak ski accident happened during a beginner’s lesson. Reports said she was not wearing a helmet. While she sustained no visible injuries, about an hour after her fall she complained of a headache and was taken to a nearby hospital. On Tuesday, she was flown to Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. The cause of death was not made official, but she was hospitalized for a critical brain injury.

Richardson is survived by her husband and their two sons, her mother, a sister and a half-sister.