Natasha Richardson, film and stage actor, died in hospital in New York on 18 March 2009 after a skiing accident in Quebec two days earlier. She was 45.
All the national heavyweight press comment on her theatrical family background. At first glance, the Daily Telegraph‘s list is the most impressive:
…profiles of Natasha Richardson – “Tash” to her friends – tended to define her by a web of family relationships: she was the granddaughter of Sir Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson; the daughter of Tony Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave; the niece of Corin and Lynn Redgrave; the cousin of Jemma Redgrave; the sister of Joely Richardson; the ex-wife of the producer Robert Fox (brother of James and Edward); and finally the wife of Liam Neeson.
But The Times trumps it:
Natasha’s great-grandfather, Roy Redgrave, was a matinée idol in the silent era, and her great-grandmother Margaret Scudamore was also an actress.
The family background led to quite an unusual upbringing, as The Guardian tells us:
Born in London, Natasha studied at the Lycée Française and St Paul’s girls school, Hammersmith. Her parents divorced when she was three. Her mother was much involved in campaigning for the Workers Revolutionary party and fundraising for refugees, and to see their father the two girls went to France and California. Natasha felt strongly loved and supported by both parents, but grew up fast: when she came to have her own children, she was keen for them to have a rather more orderly upbringing.
The Telegraph notes that this enforced early maturity meant shouldering a good deal of household responsibility early on:
The chaotic nature of family life led Natasha to assume many of the family’s domestic responsibilities. Armed with a Brownies cookery badge, she kept house in London and, on visits to her father, would sometimes cook for parties of 15 or 20. “I was a caretaker for other people,” she recalled. “I loaded myself with responsibility, I grew up probably too soon and was… very boring and middle-aged as a teenager.”
Both the Guardian and the Telegraph point out that Richardson kept quiet about her family connections when applying to the Central School of Speech and Drama in London in 1980. However, they soon became public knowledge, according to the Times:
She followed in the footsteps of her mother and aunt to the Central School of Speech and Drama, London, worked at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and appeared with her mother in the West End in a production of The Seagull (1985), winning the London drama critics’ award for most promising newcomer. She had seemingly inherited much of the family beauty, talent and intensity.
Her film career was also starting to take off by then, described here by Tim Pulleine in the Guardian:
Natasha’s first film role was in the low-budget Every Picture Tells a Story (1984), and two years later she reached a wider audience in the guise of Mary Shelley as perceived by Ken Russell in his extravagant Gothic. This was a gruelling experience in which she was at one point required to be covered from head to foot in spinach as a practical substitute for primeval slime. On location, made up with huge dark circles under her eyes, she cheerfully confided to me: “I’d probably look a lot worse if I had really been through all this.”
Meanwhile, her personal life was continuing to be turbulent, as the Times tells us:
In her early twenties she had begun a long-term relationship with Robert Fox, the film producer and younger brother of Edward and James Fox. He was more than ten years older, and had three children by a previous marriage. She later commented that her father was distressed that she spent so much time looking after the home and children, rather than going to parties. She and Fox married in 1990 but split up a couple of years later.
Her marriage to Liam Neeson and their decision to live in New York appears to have brought a more settled and contented phase in her life, in the Telegraph‘s description:
Natasha Richardson always remained close to her family, and her years in the United States, where she took full citizenship, seemed to have freed her from their shadow. In 2005 she played a Russian countess who is drawn towards Ralph Fiennes’s blind former American diplomat in the Merchant Ivory film The White Countess, which also starred her mother and her aunt, Lynn Redgrave. In Evening (2007) she appeared with her mother as a middle-aged daughter coming to terms with her mother’s imminent death.
(Natasha Jane Richardson, born 11 May 1963 in London; died 18 March 2009 in New York)