Richardson was born and raised in London, a member of the Redgrave family, known as a theatrical and film acting dynasty. She was the daughter of director and producer Tony Richardson and actress Vanessa Redgrave, granddaughter of actors Sir Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson, sister of Joely Richardson, half-sister of Carlo Gabriel Nero and Katharine Grimond Hess, niece of actress Lynn Redgrave and actor Corin Redgrave, and cousin of Jemma Redgrave. Richardson’s parents divorced in 1967. The following year, she made her film debut at the age of four in an uncredited role in The Charge of the Light Brigade, directed by her father. Richardson was educated in London at two independent schools, the Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle in South Kensington, London, and St. Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith, London, before training at the Central School of Speech and Drama.
Richardson began her career in regional theatre at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, and, in 1984, at the Open Air Theatre in London’s Regent’s Park, when she appeared in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Ralph Fiennes and Richard E. Grant. Her first professional work in London’s West End was in a revival of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull in 1985. Soon after, she starred in a London stage production of High Society, adapted from the Cole Porter film. In 1993 she made her Broadway debut in the title role of Anna Christie, which is where she met future husband, Liam Neeson. In 1998, she played the role of Sally Bowles in Sam Mendes’ revival of Cabaret on Broadway, for which she won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. The following year she returned to Broadway in Closer, for which she was nominated for the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play, and in 2005, she appeared again with the Roundabout, this time as Blanche DuBois in their revival of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, opposite John C. Reilly as Stanley Kowalski. In January 2009, two months before her death, Richardson played the role of Desirée in a concert production of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, opposite her mother, Vanessa Redgrave who played Mme. Armfeldt. The two were slated to headline a brand new Broadway production (which became the current Broadway revival directed by Trevor Nunn), which never came to existence.
Richardson portrayed Mary Shelley in the 1986 film Gothic, a fictionalised account of the author’s creation of Frankenstein. The following year she starred opposite Kenneth Branagh and Colin Firth in A Month in the Country, directed by Pat O’Connor. Director Paul Schrader signed her for the title role in Patty Hearst, his 1988 docudrama about the heiress and her kidnapping. Her performances opposite Robert Duvall and Faye Dunaway in The Handmaid’s Tale and Christopher Walken, Rupert Everett and Helen Mirren in The Comfort of Strangers (directed by Schrader) won her the 1990 Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Actress. In 1991, she appeared in The Favour, the Watch and the Very Big Fish alongside Bob Hoskins. He later credited her with giving him the best kiss of his life during the film. “She got hold of me and kissed me like I’ve never been kissed before. I was gobsmacked”. She was named Best Actress at the 1994 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival for Widows’ Peak, and that same year appeared in Nell opposite Jodie Foster and future husband Liam Neeson. Additional film credits include The Parent Trap (1998), Blow Dry (2001), Chelsea Walls (2001), Waking Up in Reno (2002), Maid in Manhattan (2002), Asylum (2005), which won her a second Evening Standard Award for Best Actress, The White Countess (2005), and Evening (2007). Her last screen appearance was as headmistress of a girls’ school in the 2008 comedy Wild Child. During the last week of January 2009, she recorded her offscreen role of the wife of climber George Mallory, who disappeared while climbing Mount Everest during a 1924 expedition, in the 2010 documentary film The Wildest Dream, for which Liam Neeson provides narration. Director Anthony Geffen described listening to the film since her death as “harrowing.”
Richardson made her American television debut in a small role in the 1984 CBS miniseries Ellis Island. That same year she made her British television debut in an episode of the BBC series Oxbridge Blues. The following year she appeared as Violet Hunter alongside Jeremy Brett and David Burke in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, in the episode entitled “The Copper Beeches”. She starred with Judi Dench, Michael Gambon and Kenneth Branagh in a 1987 BBC adaptation of the Henrik Ibsen play Ghosts; with Maggie Smith and Rob Lowe in a 1993 BBC adaptation of Suddenly, Last Summer by Tennessee Williams; portrayed Zelda Fitzgerald in the 1993 television movie Zelda; and starred in Haven (2001) on CBS and The Mastersons of Manhattan (2007) on NBC.
Richardson’s first marriage was to filmmaker Robert Fox whom she had met in 1985, during the making of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull; they were married from 1990 to 1992. She married actor Liam Neeson in the summer of 1994 at the home they shared near Millbrook, New York; she had taken American citizenship. Richardson and Neeson had two sons: Micheál (born 1995) and Daniel (born 1996). Richardson helped raise millions of dollars in the fight against AIDS; her father, director Tony Richardson, died of AIDS-related causes in 1991. Richardson was actively involved in amfAR, becoming a board of trustees member in 2006, and participated in many other AIDS charities including Bailey House, God’s Love We Deliver, Mothers’ Voices, AIDS Crisis Trust and National AIDS Trust, for which she was an ambassador. Richardson received amfAR’s Award of Courage in November 2000. A long-time smoker, although she had reportedly quit smoking, Richardson was an outspoken opponent of the ban on smoking in New York City restaurants.
On 16 March 2009, Richardson sustained a head injury when she fell while taking a beginner skiing lesson at the Mont Tremblant Resort in Quebec, Canada about 80 miles (130 km) from Montreal. The injury was followed by a lucid interval, when Richardson seemed to be fine and was able to talk and act normally. Paramedics and an ambulance which initially responded to the accident were told they were not needed and left. Refusing medical attention twice, she returned to her hotel room and about three hours later was taken to a local hospital in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts after complaining of a headache. She was transferred from there by ambulance to Hôpital du Sacré-Cœur, Montreal, in critical condition and was admitted about seven hours after the fall. The following day she was flown to Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, where she died on 18 March at the age of 45. An autopsy conducted by the New York City Medical Examiners Office on 19 March revealed the cause of death was an “epidural hematoma due to blunt impact to the head”, and her death was ruled an accident. Her heart, kidneys and liver were donated to other individuals.
On 19 March, theatre lights were dimmed on Broadway in New York and in London’s West End as a mark of respect for Richardson. The following day, a private wake was held at the American Irish Historical Society in Manhattan. On 22 March, a private funeral was held at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church near Millbrook, New York, close to the family’s upstate home, and Richardson was buried near her maternal grandmother Rachel Kempson in the churchyard. Richardson’s aunt Lynn Redgrave was also buried in the same churchyard on 8 May 2010, near Richardson and Kempson. Richardson’s family issued a statement the day of her death, “Liam Neeson, his sons, and the entire family are shocked and devastated by the tragic death of their beloved Natasha. They are profoundly grateful for the support, love and prayers of everyone, and ask for privacy during this very difficult time.”
Richardson was not wearing a helmet when she sustained her injury. This sparked a debate over whether wearing helmets while skiing should be mandatory. After the incident, the spokesman for Mont Tremblant ski resort, Ian Galbraith, stated that “we recommend all skiers and boarders wear helmets, (but) it is a matter of personal preference whether our guests choose to do so.” A mandatory helmet law was never implemented in Quebec, though the Quebec Ski Areas Association budgeted $200,000 toward a safety campaign. According to a BBC report, the number of skiers and snowboarders who wore helmets increased substantially after Richardson’s death and several other high profile incidents.
- May, 11, 1963
- Marylebone, London, England
- March, 18, 2009
- New York, New York
Cause of Death
- epidural hematoma due to blunt impact to the head
- Saint Peter's Episcopal Cemetery
- Lithgow, New York