The First and Deputy First Ministers last night led condolences and prayers being offered to Liam Neeson from his native Northern Ireland as he came to terms with the tragic death of his wife.
Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness issued a joint statement offering their sympathies to the family of the Ballymena-born actor after Natasha Richardson’s death in New York on Wednesday.
Mr Robinson said: “I would like to express my deepest sympathies to Liam Neeson and his family circle at this very difficult time. To lose his wife so young and so suddenly is surely devastating. I know that all of us, but particularly those in Ballymena, will be remembering the family in our thoughts and prayers at this very difficult time.”
Mr McGuinness, who attended an event in New York on Sunday along with Natasha's mother, actress Vanessa Redgrave, said: “My thoughts and prayers are with Natasha Richardson's entire family, particularly Liam Neeson and their two sons. It is such a tragedy for two young boys to lose their mother so suddenly. We are all thinking of them and praying for them at this deeply distressing time.”
Their warm tribute came after former DUP leader Dr Ian Paisley offered his sympathy.
The MP for North Antrim, which covers the Ballymena area where Liam Neeson was born, said his thoughts were with the family at this sad time.
“I wish to express my sadness, and extend my prayers to the entire Neeson family who I know are grieving for a terrible, unplanned and tragic loss,” Mr Paisley said.
“To Liam and his two boys I express my sadness and prayers for them for the loss of their wife and mother. And to Liam’s mother in Ballymena who has lost her daughter-in-law I too extend my prayerful sympathy at this time.
“Each of us do not know what a day will bring forth and the suddenness of this tragedy is a demonstration of just how precious, yet precarious life is.
“As MP I want to assure the Neeson, Redgrave and Richardson families of our thoughts at this time.”
Richard Croxford, artistic director at the Lyric Theatre, said everyone at the theatre where Liam began his acting career was “deeply shocked and saddened by this terrible tragedy”.
“Liam is part of the Lyric family and we send our heartfelt sympathies to him. Our thoughts and prayers are with Liam and his family at this difficult time,” he said.
Former UTV presenter Kate Smith, who interviewed the couple on the red carpet at the Oscars ceremony in LA in 1993 — the year Neeson was nominated for Best Actor for Schlinder’s List — recalled Miss Richardson’s pride in her husband.
“I remember very clearly what she said to me and that was how proud she was that Liam had been nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor,” she said.
“There were rumours at the time that the pair had got engaged and were planning to marry and as a reporter, I was bold enough to ask her, but she was very discreet. She was a beautiful, talented and articulate woman and was very obviously smitten with Liam.
“It’s heart-breaking that this has happened, I feel gutted for Liam and his two young boys.”
SDLP MLA Declan O'Loan also expressed shock and sadness at her death.
Mr O’Loan, who represents the Ballymena area, said the community was devastated by the sad news of the actress’s death.
“I want to express my sympathy to Liam Neeson, his young sons and the entire Neeson family on the tragic death of Liam's wife, Natasha Richardson,” said Mr O'Loan.
“I know that the people of Ballymena will join with me in this expression of sympathy.
“There is immense pride here in the achievements of Liam Neeson as an internationally known actor and one of great distinction.
“His large family circle here in Ballymena and the surrounding area are very well known and highly respected.
“We are all thinking of them at this time of sadness.”
And SDLP deputy leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell said: “My thoughts and prayers are with Liam Neeson, his family and the Redgrave family.”