Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Natasha Richardson: A simple skiing accident... a tragic loss

Natasha Richardson
Natasha Richardson and Liam Neeson
Natasha and Liam

“A twinkle and a sparkle have left the world,” lamented Michael Winner. Director Sam Mendes spoke of a “gifted, brave, tenacious, wonderful woman” whose going “defies belief”. These were the tributes — and so many more — that flowed yesterday for the British actress Natasha Richardson who died in New York.

Distraught family and acting world mourn in disbelief Tragic skiing accident victim Natasha Richardson, her husband Liam Neeson yesterday and her aunt Lynn Redgrave outside Natasha’s New York apartment

While actors, directors, producers and television personalities shared their grief and shock, Broadway itself, following tradition, prepared to dim its marquee lights last night on behalf of all the fans anxious for a way to express their sorrow for the loss of Ms Richardson, who was only 45 and a mother of two, and for her grieving family.

After the release of a statement late Wednesday by the family confirming the death of Ms Richardson and evoking the “devastation” felt by her sons, her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, and her husband, Liam Neeson, there was no further word yesterday on funeral arrangements for the actress who had lived in New York for many years.

Nor was there any official information as to the exact cause of her death that followed what had at first seemed like an innocuous tumble on Monday afternoon on the bunny slopes of a Quebec ski resort to which Ms Richardson had travelled with her two boys.

Word from the resort, Mont Tremblant, that she had fallen on the snow but not struck anything else left many unsettled: how could that end in such tragedy?

The New York Medical Examiner’s Office said last night that the cause of death was an “epidural hematoma due to blunt impact to the head,” confirming what had been widely reported: that she died following bleeding in the lining of her brain.

But questions over whether Ms Richardson’s death could have been avoided with swifter intervention were stirred by the head of the emergency medical response team that serves Mont Tremblant who told a Canadian newspaper he had sent an ambulance to Ms Richardson when she first fell but it had been turned away.

On Broadway, Ms Richardson will be remembered for acclaimed performances from her Tony Award winning run as Sally Bowles in the Mendes-directed revival of Cabaret to her roles in A Streetcar Named Desire (2005), Closer (1999) and Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie, in which her co-star was Liam Neeson. It was after that production, when they virtually courted on stage before rapt audiences, that the couple came together and married.

And while Ms Richardson, a fourth-generation member of one of Britain’s greatest theatrical dynasties, had a reputation for sometimes eschewing big Hollywood parts that might have assured her wider fame, her film oeuvre was also deep and varied, ranging from Nell to The Comfort of Strangers and Patty Hearst.

“The Broadway community is shocked and deeply saddened by the tragic loss of one of our finest young actresses, Natasha Richardson. Her theatrical lineage is legendary, but her own singular talent shined memorably on any stage she appeared,” said Charlotte St Martin, executive director of The Broadway League, the trade organisation for Broadway theatres and producers.

Jane Fonda, currently on Broadway, recalled meeting her on the set of Julia, in which she co-

starred with Ms Redgrave, back in 1977. “She was a little girl but already beautiful and graceful. It didn’t surprise me that she became such a talented actor. It is hard to even imagine what it must be like for her family. My heart is heavy.”

They kept her alive to bring her back to New York, so that the boys could say goodbye

Dame Judi Dench spoke of her “luminous quality” and voiced the certainty that her career would have risen to still greater heights had she been spared.

“I have no doubt about it.” Dame Judi said.

“It’s just so shocking, really shocking, and I hope that everybody leaves the family quietly to somehow pick up the pieces.”

Yves Coderre, director of medics at Mont Tremblant, confirmed that when first dispatched to the slopes, his staff had been turned away and had not even seen Ms Richardson. Assistance was finally sought an hour later after she had been escorted to her hotel room. At that time, he said, she was still conscious but “wasn’t in good shape” as she was rushed to a local hospital. From there she was taken to a larger facility in Montreal before being flown to Lenox Hill hospital in New York on Tuesday.

Joan Rivers, the comedian, told Larry King on CNN that she had been told even then that the actress was brain dead and beyond the point of possible recovery. “And I was told, which is, again, so dear, that they kept her alive purposely to bring her back to New York, so that the boys could say goodbye to her,” she said.

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