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    Natasha Richardson Dead at 45

    Natasha Richardson AP Photo/Evan Agostini

    Natasha Richardson has died.

    The Tony Award winner passed away today after being removed from life support at a New York hospital. She was 45.

    “A small private funeral” is planned, according to friends who spoke earlier to E! News on behalf of the bereaved family.

    The wife of Liam Neeson and daughter of Oscar winners Vanessa Redgrave and Tony Richardson was hospitalized Monday in Montreal after a fall during a ski lesson. Richardson, accompanied by Neeson, was flown Tuesday to New York and admitted to Manhattan's Lenox Hill Hospital, where she was declared brain dead.

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

     

    Though sometimes overshadowed by the more imposing branches on her family tree, Richardson once was hailed as a "major star" for her breakout performance in Patty Hearst, the 1988 biopic about the kidnapped heiress.

    With the film, the New York Times' Vincent Canby wrote at the time, Richardson, then 25, "acquires her own identity as a major actress on the international scene. From now on, her bloodlines need only be noted by Who's Who in Film and Theater."

    But while Richardson won a Tony for Sam Mendes' pitch-black 1998 revival of Cabaret, and stood out on film in The Handmaid's Tale and the popular remake of The Parent Trap, with Dennis Quaid and a fresh-faced Lindsay Lohan, her bloodlines were never out of the spotlight, especially in her native Britain, where the Redgrave name is legendary going back to grandfather Michael Redgrave, a theater great and Oscar nominee.

    "It's more to do with other people's perceptions of me, rather than my perception of myself," Richardson told the London Observer in 2003.

    Her 1994 marriage to Neeson, her costar in the Jodie Foster film Nell, brought another big name into her universe, which included aunt Lynn Redgrave (Gods and Monsters) and sister Joely Richardson (Nip/Tuck). The couple had two sons, Micheál Richard Antonio, 13, and Daniel Jack, 12. Neeson credited Richardson with helping nurse him back to health following his own devastating accident, on a motorcycle, in 2000.

    Born May 11, 1963, Richardson entered the world the same year her father, the filmmaker and theater director, made Tom Jones. The Albert Finney comedy ended up winning the elder Richardson Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture.

    "My father used to bounce me on his knee when I was 3 going, 'Movies, movies, movies,' " Richardson remembered in 1998.

    Tony Richardson died in 1991.

    When Richardson was 14, mother Vanessa Redgrave won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Julia.

    When Richardson followed her parents into the family business, she knew full well how the world would judge her. "It's a huge help to be the daughter of famous parents," she told the New York Times in 1988. "The doors open just out of curiosity, and after you land a job, you have the inspiration of their help, and their own work."

    Early on in her career, in 1985, Richardson took on her mother, an offscreen force as much as on onscreen one for her lightning-rod politics, on her turf: the London stage.

    "It was The Seagull, and she took over, and we didn't have many scenes together anyway," Richardson told the Observer.

    Still, Richardson came back for more. In 2007, she played Redgrave's daughter in the mother-daughter big-screen drama Evening. This past January, she and the 72-year-old Redgrave teased New York audiences with a one-night-only, concert version of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music. The two were to said to be angling to mount a full-scale Broadway revival of the musical next year.

    Though rarely a marquee name at the movies, Richardson was a first-class star on the New York stage. Aside from Cabaret, she starred on Broadway in Anna Christie, A Streetcar Named Desire and Closer, the scorched-earth relationship drama that became the 2004 film (with Julia Roberts in the role once played by Richardson).

    Richardson's other film credits include Waking Up in Reno, with Billy Bob Thornton, and Maid in Manhattan, with Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes.

    Asked by interviewer Charlie Rose in 1998 if, given her history, she could've pursued a profession other than acting, Richardson understandably said no.

    "For all its exhaustion and difficulties, I have this charmed life of a strong family life, with my two little baby boys and my husband and my home and my friends," she said, "and getting to be a gypsy playing these parts."

    Acting, she said, "was my dream, and it's kind of unthinkable to do anything else."

    (Originally published March 18, 2009 at 5:02 p.m. PT.)

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