It all happened so suddenly. In March 2009 Liam Neeson was working on a Toronto film set while his wife, Natasha Richardson, was skiing in Montreal. She then called him from the slopes to tell him that she had had a fall – which sounded at first like a minor dust-up. Yet a much more serious injury lingered beneath the surface.
Later, Neeson rushed from his workplace to Richardson’s bedside, shocked that she’d deteriorated so quickly from something that had seemed so minor. Doctors then showed him her prognosis, and Neeson knew he had to make a decision. But the actor wouldn’t tell anyone what he did for several years.
Sadly, of course, Richardson died, and Neeson subsequently took as much work as possible. But in 2014 the actor decided to tell the whole story. He then opened up on an episode of 60 Minutes about losing his wife in such a sudden way. And during the show, Neeson also made a confession about what happened in their last moments together.
Neeson’s story could have been so different, too. In fact, the Irishman’s life initially presented him with a slew of other career paths – but he somehow ended up as an Oscar-nominated actor in Hollywood. First, you see, Neeson enrolled at Queen’s University Belfast in 1971, where he studied computer science and physics. He eventually left academia for a job at Guinness, however.
Neeson later demonstrated another talent of his: soccer. In fact, the then-manager of Bohemian F.C., Séan Thomas, noticed that Neeson could play so he signed him up for a trial. The future actor even played in one match against the Shamrock Rovers F.C. – but he never received a contract from Bohemian.
Neeson then held a string of different jobs, including those of forklift operator and truck driver. He even enrolled in teacher training college in England but eventually ended up back in his Northern Irish hometown. But the actor finally found his calling in 1976 when he became part of the Lyric Players’ Theatre, where he subsequently performed for two years.
So Neeson had found his path, and his stage career would take him from Belfast and Dublin to London. Then in the 1980s the star began performing in movies, with the biggest initial part coming in The Mission – a 1986 flick that also featured Jeremy Irons and Robert De Niro. Neeson also co-starred in Next of Kin with Patrick Swayze three years later.
The part that would skyrocket Neeson to fame, however, would come in 1993, when Steven Spielberg cast him in Schindler’s List. The director had seen Neeson in Broadway’s Anna Christie and put him in contention for the movie alongside the likes of Warren Beatty and Kevin Costner. And Neeson secured the part of Oskar Schindler – a role that subsequently made him one of Hollywood’s most in-demand actors.
For his performance in Schindler’s List, too, Neeson earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actor as well as BAFTA and Golden Globe nods. The 1990s saw him also star in a slew of memorable films, including 1994’s Nell, Les Misérables four years later and Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, which premiered in 1999.
Neeson has also earned Tony Award nominations for his on-stage performances in both 1993’s Anna Christie and 2002’s The Crucible. Alongside that, the Irishman has starred in even more well-known films, including Gangs of New York and Love Actually. But it’s the actor’s performance in the action film Taken that put Neeson back on Hollywood’s A-List in 2008.
And just as Neeson’s career changed and flourished, so too did the actor’s love life. For instance, one of his first big film roles, in 1981’s Excalibur, had him working alongside actress Helen Mirren. And while on set, Neeson said during a 2018 appearance on The Graham Norton Show, the actor realized that Mirren liked him.
As Neeson remembered, “Before I met [Mirren] and we worked together, I had read somewhere that if she fancied a guy she would imitate his walk behind his back. And I turned around one day and she was doing that to me.” So it wasn’t long before the actor felt equally as enamored with his co-star.
Neeson said, “I remember being on the set [of Excalibur] as [Mirren] walked towards us dressed in her full Morgana le Fay costume… I was smitten.” From there, things quickly became serious between him and Mirren. As the latter described to Graham Norton, “We didn’t date; we lived together for four years.”
According to The Telegraph, Neeson later described what it was like to embark on his relationship with Mirren on the set of a period drama. “Can you imagine riding horses in shiny suits of armor, having sword fights, and you’re falling in love with Helen Mirren? It doesn’t get any better than that.”
As things progressed with Mirren, though, Neeson had trouble finding work in London – while Mirren’s career continued to flourish. Mirren said in a profile of Neeson in 1994, “It was difficult for him to be under my shadow. I was well known. I had the money.” This reportedly later led to the pair deciding to call it quits.
The split between Neeson and Mirren proved to be an amicable one, though. The decision also coincidentally paved the way for Neeson to jumpstart his career. He ended up relocating to Hollywood in 1987, you see, and six years later the actor earned his part in Schindler’s List. As Mirren explained in the profile of Neeson, the star had to “come out from under [her] wing. He handled it with great elegance and grace.”
Neeson’s move to Hollywood also introduced Neeson to another actress with whom he shared a long-term relationship. In 1988 a 35-year-old Neeson starred alongside Julia Roberts, then 19, in the movie Satisfaction. And according to The Kitty Kelley Files: Julia Roberts, within two weeks the pair had moved in together – and they remained an item until 1990.
The show also claimed that Roberts and Neeson worked well together. Kelley revealed, “Liam Neeson was great with Julia Roberts. She was new to the business; he was accomplished, he was successful.” Ultimately, though, the relationship didn’t last. The pair in fact split, and Neeson went on to date Dirty Dancing star Jennifer Grey.
Neeson also dated supermodel Janice Dickinson, model and actress Brooke Shields, and singers Cher and Sinead O’Connor. But in 1993 he met his match in actress Natasha Richardson, whom he’d met when they were both cast in the Broadway revival of the play Anna Christie.
Richardson’s background was significantly different from Neeson’s, though. She came into the world in London, England, as part of a performing family. In fact, some consider the Redgraves – including her mother, Vanessa – to be an acting dynasty. Richardson therefore had her first film role at four years old. The actor later went on to study at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, too.
Richardson then enjoyed a career both on stage and in the movies – yet her role alongside Neeson in Anna Christie marked the star’s Broadway debut. Then in 1998 she garnered a Tony Award for Leading Actress in a Musical for her part as Sally Bowles in the revival of Cabaret on the Great White Way.
Richardson also starred in such beloved films as 1998’s The Parent Trap and 2002’s Maid in Manhattan. But, as we mentioned earlier, it was her theatrical career that brought her to her future husband. And in his interview with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes, Neeson described the magnetic connection that they shared from the get-go.
Neeson said, “I’d never had that kind of explosive chemistry situation with an actor or actress. We just had this wonderful kind of dance-free dance on stage every night. She and I were like [Fred] Astaire and [Ginger] Rogers.” But his romance with Richardson didn’t begin right away, in spite of the obvious spark.
For one thing, Richardson was married to producer Robert Fox when she met Neeson. But, behind the scenes, their union had started to crumble, and her mounting feelings for Neeson didn’t help. According to Country Living, Richardson later said, “Working with [Neeson], what happened between us, and that becoming public knowledge in conjunction with my marriage falling apart, was kind of bad timing.”
Ultimately, though, Richardson couldn’t deny their connection. She said, “Obviously I fell very much in love with him.” And it was apparently Richardson who pushed their relationship from a friendship toward something more serious. At the time, Neeson had sent her a birthday card from the set of Schindler’s List with an ambiguous message, she recalled.
The note read, “You’re catching up with me. Lots of love, Oskar.” Neeson had signed the card with his Schindler’s List character’s name – but Richardson didn’t find it charming. Instead, she replied to Neeson and bluntly said, “This is like a letter from a buddy. What is our relationship?”
With that, according to Neeson, he fell for Richardson. The actor said, “That was when I knew I really loved this person. I thought, ‘This is real and genuine and is something that has to be protected.’” The pair made it official shortly thereafter, marrying in summer 1994. And, by the spring the following year, they had started to grow their family.
Neeson and Richardson’s son Micheál came first, with their second boy, Daniel, coming 18 months later. According to Country Living, Neeson said that his wife was very much a nurturer, adding, “She cared for everybody. She has a motherly instinct. And she’d make dinners for everyone and just looked after us all.”
But Richardson’s life as an actress, wife and mother would be cut tragically short. So while Neeson filmed in Toronto in March 2009, she went skiing at the Mont Tremblant Resort just outside of Montreal. But as Richardson took on the beginner ski slopes, she fell and bumped her head – a result that hadn’t phased her.
As Neeson said on 60 Minutes, “I spoke to her, and she said, ‘Oh darling. I’ve taken a tumble in the snow.’ That’s how she described it.” And although ambulances came to care for Richardson, she refused to go to the hospital. But she had actually suffered a head injury that can – and did – become serious without treatment.
It then became clear that Richardson did, indeed, need medical care. She ended up in a Montreal hospital, and, soon enough, Neeson abandoned the movie set to be by her side. When he got there, though, the doctor showed him just how much damage her fall had caused. Neeson peered at the X-ray and later described seeing her brain “squashed up against the side of the skull.”
The New York City medical examiner’s office subsequently revealed that Richardson’s head had suffered blunt force trauma. The injury had also caused internal bleeding. And when a damaged artery continues pumping, blood can pool within the organ, leading to irreparable damage without treatment.
The doctors eventually revealed Richardson’s prognosis to Neeson. The actor later explained 60 Minutes, “I was told she was brain dead… She was on life support and stuff. And I went in… and told her I loved her. I said, ‘Sweetie, you’re not coming back from this. You’ve banged your head. It’s – I don’t know if you can hear me, but that’s – this is what’s gone down.’”
Neeson decided to keep Richardson on life support long enough to transport her from Montreal to New York so that her loved ones could say goodbye. But, as he revealed in his interview, the actor knew he would remove the life support. After all, Neeson and Richardson had “made a pact” that if either of them “got into a vegetative state that we’d pull the plug.”
The shock and heartbreak surrounding Richardson’s sudden death did have one bit of silver lining that Neeson could see later, however. The star said, “[She] donated three of her organs, so she’s keeping three people alive at the moment. Her heart, her kidneys and her liver.” And, as Neeson said, Richardson “would be very thrilled and pleased by that.”
After losing Richardson, Neeson filled his work schedule to the brim. In the ten years after his wife’s 2009 death, in fact, the actor has featured in almost 40 movies. The Northern Irish native felt as though he had to put a strong front on for his sons, adding, “I’m not good without work… And I just didn’t want to – especially for my boys – seem to be wallowing in sadness or depression.”
For their part, Neeson and Richardson’s children have found ways to honor their late mother, too. In October 2018, for instance, Micheál announced that he’d be changing his surname. Although his last name was once Neeson, you see, he decided to swap it for Richardson nearly a decade after his mother’s fatal accident.
According to Micheál’s grandmother, Vanessa Redgrave, he made the switch not to distance himself from his father, but to honor his mother. She told the Daily Mail, “That wasn’t because he wanted to avoid his father’s fame, which is enormous. He wanted to hold his mother close to him – because she was a remarkable actress. Absolutely remarkable.”
And, as time has gone on, Neeson has opened up more about what Richardson’s death has taught him. He took to Facebook in 2016 to share what he’d learned with his followers, writing, “They say the hardest thing in the world is losing someone you love.”
Neeson went on, “My wife died unexpectedly. She brought me so much joy. We have to stop and be thankful for our spouses. Because, one day, when you look up from your phone, they won’t be there anymore. What I truly learned most of all is, live and love every day like it’s your last. Because, one day, it will be.”