Natasha Richardson dies at 45

Tony-winning actress fell during ski lesson

Image gallery: Natasha Richardson
Colleagues, friends remember Richardson
Autopsy: Richardson died of hematoma

Natasha Richardson, who upheld her lineage as part of one of the great acting dynasties by establishing an eclectic career in film, TV and theater, earning a Tony in 1998 for her performance in "Cabaret," died Wednesday in New York. She was 45.

Her death, following a head injury she suffered Monday while taking a skiing lesson in Canada, was confirmed Wednesday evening in a written statement by Alan Nierob, the Los Angeles-based publicist for her husband Liam Neeson. Details about the cause of death were not released, but reports suggested that Richardson was removed from life support Wednesday.

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

At the time of the accident, which occurred at the Mont Tremblant resort north of Montreal, the actress experienced no immediate distress. After developing a headache about an hour later, she was taken first to a local hospital in Ste. Agathe, Quebec, and then was transferred to the Hopital du Sacre-Coeur de Montreal.

On Tuesday, she was transported to Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, where her family, including Neeson and her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, gathered to keep vigil.

For many, it was difficult to reconcile the news of such a seemingly random death with Richardson's vibrant presence that combined a polished bearing with a deep, throaty laugh.

In her early 20s, barely out of drama school, Richardson demonstrated her command of the stage in a 1985 production of Anton Chekhov's "The Seagull," in which she worked for the first time with her mother. The London Drama Critics' Circle immediately hailed the young actress as most promising newcomer.

Nevertheless, at first Richardson appeared to be an unusual choice when director Sam Mendes cast her as Sally Bowles in his reimagining of "Cabaret" when it transferred from London to New York's Roundabout Theatre in 1998.

After all, Liza Minnelli had made the role her own on film, and Richardson generally was not regarded as a musical-comedy performer -- though she played socialite Tracy Lord in a 1987 stage version of "High Society." Instead of portraying Sally as a belting Broadway baby, Richardson grounded her in the dramatic reality of a struggling cabaret performer caught up in the darkening shadows of Weimer Germany.

The New York Times' Ben Brantley wrote of her way with the show's title tune, "What Ms. Richardson does is reclaim and reinvent a show-biz anthem that is as familiar as Hamlet's soliloquy." The theater community agreed, awarding her a Tony and a Drama Desk Award.

Tall and coolly elegant, Richardson moved easily between costume drama and contemporary fare.

She first appeared onscreen as a child, playing a flower girl in her director father Tony Richardson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade," but she made her first major film appearance as Mary Shelley in Ken Russell's 1986 film "Gothic." She quickly moved on to tackle the title role of a kidnapped American heiress in Paul Schrader's 1988 "Patty Hearst."

Schrader also cast Richardson opposite Rupert Everett in 1990's "The Comfort of Strangers," about an English couple who visit Venice to sort out their relationship.

"Natasha Richardson was an extraordinary actress, not just for her beauty, lineage and talent but for her intelligence and fearlessness," Schrader said. "She was brave and smart. I was in awe of her from the time we first met and will miss her dearly."

Her screen roles ranged from a sexually enslaved woman in 1990's "The Handmaid's Tale," Volker Schlondorff's adaptation of Margaret Atwood's allegorical novel, to half of a separated couple reunited by their twins in Disney's 1998 remake of "The Parent Trap."

More recently, she joined her mother in the autumnal drama "Evening," where the two played an onscreen mother-daughter pair.

In January, Richardson and her mother reunited again to play a mother and daughter in a one-night benefit concert version of the Stephen Sondheim musical "A Little Night Music" at Studio 54 in New York. Their successful teaming sparked talk of mounting a full Broadway production.

Richardson also collaborated on several projects with Neeson, whom she married in 1994 after an earlier marriage to British producer Robert Fox.

Richardson and Neeson appeared together onstage in a 1993 Broadway production of Eugene O'Neill's "Anna Christie," for which they both received Tony nominations.

They also shared the screen in 1994's "Nell," in which she co-starred as a psychology student treating a withdrawn young woman played by Jodie Foster.

Born on May 11, 1963, in London to Redgrave and Tony Richardson ("Tom Jones"), Natasha Richardson was surrounded by acting royalty from the start. Her maternal grandparents, Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson, ruled over the British stage and screen from the late 1930s onward.

Her mother burst on the screen in the early '60s, becoming one of the faces of swinging London in such movies as "Morgan" and "Blowup," while Richardson's aunt Lynn Redgrave ("Georgy Girl") and uncle Corin Redgrave ("A Man for All Seasons") established equally prolific careers. In time, Richardson's sister Joely ("Nip/Tuck") and cousin Jemma Redgrave would join her in the family business.

Richardson received her training at London's Central School of Speech and Drama. Onstage, she ranged from "Hamlet" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" to Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire" to Patrick Marber's "Closer."

She played equally varied roles on a series of television productions, including "Suddenly, Last Summer," "Hostages" and "Zelda," in which she cavorted as Zelda Fitzgerald.

After her father died of AIDS in 1991, Richardson took up the cause of fighting the disease. To raise money for amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, she recently appeared in an episode of Bravo's "Top Chef," hosting a charity event.

She is survived by Neeson; their two sons, Michael and Daniel; her mother; her sister; and a half-sister, Katherine Grimond.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Colleagues and friends remember Natasha Richardson:

"Natasha was brilliant, beautiful, funny, talented beyond measure, as emotionally raw as she was razor sharp. ... May Liam, her beautiful boys and her loving family hold her close as they move through this tragic moment." -- Jodie Foster, who co-starred with Richardson and Liam Neeson in the 1994 drama "Nell"

"Tasha is irreplaceable. I cannot think of anyone kinder, more generous, thoughtful, smarter or more fun. She is godmother of two of my children. The Neesons and Vanessa (Redgrave, Richardson's mother) have always made me feel a part of their wonderful family. My thoughts and prayers are with them." -- Mia Farrow

"She was one of a kind, a magnificent actress. ... She was also an amazing mother, a loyal friend and the greatest and most generous host you could ever hope to meet." -- Sam Mendes, who directed the Broadway musical "Cabaret" for which Richardson won a Tony Award in 1998.

"She was a wonderful woman and actress and treated me like I was her own. ... My heart goes out to her family. This is a tragic loss." -- Lindsay Lohan, who co-starred with Richardson in a remake of "The Parent Trap" in 1998

"As a stage actress she was really coming into her own, she was becoming a major star and taken extremely seriously on the stage and also her film work ... was excellent. She had a sort of luminous presence on the stage, but offstage she was a very shy, very easygoing, almost self-deprecating character who didn't like being made a fuss of." -- Tim Walker, theater critic for Britain's Sunday Telegraph newspaper

"She was quite careful about what she did. But what she did, she went into with a full heart and a passion. She was very discerning, very serious about the film roles she chose. It's absolutely tragic that somebody with so much to offer, and of course from this great acting dynasty, should be taken at this time of her life, and tragic of course for her family." -- British theater critic Michael Coveney

"I just want to say how deeply saddened I am, we all are, by the sudden passing of actress Natasha Richardson yesterday. Our thoughts and prayers are with her husband Liam Neeson, their two sons, the rest of their family and friends. Yet another reminder of how fleeting life can be and how precious. We need to value every moment." -- Oprah Winfrey

"She was a lady. I can't tell you enough what a good person she was, and fun and vivacious and the most full of life." -- Kelly Ripa, co-host with Regis Philbin on the syndicated talk show "Live With Regis and Kelly"