The Luminous Actress – Natasha Richardson

Natasha Jane Richardson was born on 11 May 1963, the daughter of the actress Vanessa Redgrave and the director, Tony Richardson. Entertainment was part of Richardson's heritage, her maternal grandfather was Sir Michael Redgrave, who himself was a well-known English stage and film actor, director, manager and author.

Richardson's father was producer Tony Richardson. Her aunt is actress Lynn Redgrave, with whom Richardson along with her mother appeared in the 2005 Merchant Ivory film "The White Countess." Her sister Joely Richardson is an accomplished actress in her own right, starring in the hit TV series, Nip/Tuck.

Though she may have been overshadowed by the very public profiles and successes of her family members – in particular her mother's – she too garnered some respect and praise for her own performances.

Her relationship with success was not limited to famous family members. Her first marriage was to producer Robert Fox in 1990 lasted only for two years. During the filming of Nell in 1994, she met and fell in love with Irish actor Liam Neeson. They were married and went on to have two sons.

She was also known for her humanitarian efforts, especially raising millions of dollars in the fight against AIDS. Her father, director Tony Richardson, died of AIDS-related causes in 1991.

Richardson was actively involved in The American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR), becoming a board of trustees member in 2006, and participated in many other AIDS charities including Bailey House, God's Love We Deliver, Mothers' Voices, AIDS Crisis Trust and National AIDS Trust, for which she was an ambassador. Richardson received amfAR's Award of Courage in November 2000.

Though her career was not illustrious as some of her relatives', she did have some shining moments on the silver screen. Richardson portrayed author Mary Shelley in the 1986 film Gothic, an adaptation of Frankenstein directed by Ken Russell. The following year she starred opposite Kenneth Branagh and Colin Firth in A Month in the Country, directed by Pat O'Connor. Director Paul Schrader signed her for the title role in Patty Hearst, his 1988 docudrama about the heiress and her alleged kidnapping. Her performances opposite Robert Duvall and Faye Dunaway in The Handmaid's Tale and Christopher Walken, Rupert Everett, and Helen Mirren in The Comfort of Strangers (directed by Schrader) won her the 1990 Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Actress.

In 1994 she appeared in Nell opposite Jodie Foster and future husband Liam Neeson. Her marriage to Neeson brought with it more Box Office friendly movies, such as The Parent Trap (1998) with Lindsay Lohan and Dennis Quaid, and Maid in Manhattan with Jennifer Lopez. Additional film credits include Blow Dry (2001), Chelsea Walls (2001), Waking Up in Reno (2002), Asylum (2005), which won her a second Evening Standard Award for Best Actress, The White Countess (2005), and Evening (2007). Her last screen appearance was as headmistress of a girls' school in the 2008 comedy Wild Child.

On 16 March 2009, Richardson sustained a traumatic head injury, while taking a skiing lesson at the Mont Tremblant Resort in Quebec, Canada. Paramedics which responded to the accident were told they were not needed. Although she returned to her hotel room about an hour later was taken to Centre Hospitalier Laurentien after complaining of a headache, and was transferred from there to the Hôpital du Sacré-Coeur de Montréal in critical condition. The following day she was transferred to Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, where she died on 18 March.

An autopsy conducted on 19 March 2009 by the New York City Medical Examiners Office revealed the cause of death was an "epidural hematoma due to blunt impact to the head," and ruled her death an accident.

Following her death, there was an outpour of grief and tributes from her friends, family and close friends. Actor Kevin Spacey, the director of London's Old Vic, said: "There are no words to express how tragic Natasha Richardson's untimely passing is for the theatre community." Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes, who worked with Richardson in a Broadway production of Cabaret, added: "It defies belief that this gifted, brave, tenacious, wonderful woman is gone." Ken Russell, who directed her in 1986's Gothic, praised her "ephemeral delicacy and intelligent beauty". Dame Judi Dench said she had a rare "luminous quality", and that Richardson still had great work ahead of her.

Natasha Richardson died in a New York hospital, close to the home she shared with Neeson and their two sons.

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