Actress sustained brain damage in ski accident

After sustaining brain damage in a freak ski accident Monday, actress Natasha Richardson died Wednesday at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. She was 45.

A member of the Redgrave acting dynasty — and a Tony winner for “Cabaret” in 1999 — Richardson was skiing at Mont-Tremblant near Montreal when she suffered a seemingly minor fall during a ski lesson.

The actress felt fine, but later complained of a headache and was hospitalized, then flown on Tuesday to the U.S. with swelling of the brain. Reports indicate she was taken off life support Wednesday.

She was married to Liam Neeson, with whom she had two sons, and was the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave.

She was born in London in 1963 and made her film debut at age 4 in “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” directed by her father, Tony Richardson.

In “Vanessa Redgrave: An Autobiography,” the actress describes her daughter as Ophelia in a Young Vic production of “Hamlet.” Richardson did not play the “mad scene” as insane, but rather grief-stricken at the horrors she’d seen adults commit. It quieted the rowdy audience of young students and her grandfather, Sir Michael Redgrave summed up, “She’s a true actress” — high praise from someone who was not easily impressed.

The entire family was theatrical: Her grandmother was actress Rachel Kempson and she was the niece of actors Lynn Redgrave and Corin Redgrave. Her first marriage was to British theatrical producer Robert Fox.

Richardson trained at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama and gained experience doing repertory theater in Leeds and Shakespeare at London’s Old Vic. She made her West End debut as Nina in Charles Sturridge’s 1986 production of Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” opposite her mother and Jonathan Pryce. Also in London, she starred as Tracy Lord in a stage musical adapted from the film “High Society,” directed by Eyre.

Her biggest triumphs continued to be on the stage, particularly in New York, though she had a successful career on TV and in films. One of her most prominent earlier roles was starring as “Patty Hearst” in the 1988 Paul Schrader biopic.

Other notable film roles included Ken Russell’s “Gothic,” “A Month in the Country,” “The Handmaid’s Tale” (1990), “Nell,” “The Comfort of Strangers,” “Widows’ Peak,” “The Parent Trap” (1998), “Maid in Manhattan,” “The White Countess” (2005) and last year’s “Evening.”

She also worked occasionally in television, notably opposite Maggie Smith in a 1993 remake of Tennessee Williams’ “Suddenly, Last Summer,” directed by Richard Eyre.

But despite her extensive screen work, it was stage that was the most successful venue for the statuesque beauty with the sonorous voice (“Natasha’s voice compels you to listen, which is a great gift,” her mother wrote in her autobio).

Richardson made her New York debut in 1992 in Roundabout Theater Company’s Broadway transfer of Eugene O’Neill’s “Anna Christie,” originally staged in London by David Leveaux. She earned her first Tony nomination for the title role, playing opposite future husband Neeson and Rip Torn.

She won the Tony four years later as Sally Bowles in Sam Mendes’ revival of “Cabaret,” also for Roundabout.

In 1999 she starred with Anna Friel, Rupert Graves and Ciaran Hinds in Patrick Marber’s Rialto production of his play “Closer.” And in 2005 she continued her association with Roundabout in director Edward Hall’s revival of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” playing Blanche DuBois opposite John C. Reilly’s Stanley Kowalski.

“Not only was Natasha Richardson one of the greatest actresses of her generation,” Roundabout a.d. Todd Haimes said in a statement, “but she was also a treasured member of the Roundabout family and a wonderful friend. Our hearts go out to Natasha’s family at this devastating time.”

In January of this year, Richardson appeared as fading actress Desiree Armfeldt in a one-night concert benefit for Roundabout at Studio 54 of “A Little Night Music,” with her mother as Madame Armfeldt. Reports following the performance indicated that both were hoping to reprise those roles in a full Broadway revival of the Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical being planned for next season.

Among her survivors are her husband; her mother; her sister, actress Joely Richardson; and two sons.

(Timothy M. Gray and Pat Saperstein contributed to this report.)

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