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Rest in Peace Natasha Richardson

Natasha Richardson

Actress Natasha Richardson has died, a family spokesperson announced Wednesday evening. The 45-year-old mother of two and wife of actor Liam Neeson, succumbed to a head injury sustained during a skiing accident at Mont Tremblant.

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

The New York City medical examiner's office reported on Thursday that Richardson died of blunt impact to the head and that her death was ruled an accident.

Hailing from one of Britain's most illustrious theatrical dynasties, Richardson was the elder daughter of Oscar-winning actress Vanessa Redgrave and the late director Tony Richardson.

Her other famed relations included sister and "Nip/Tuck" star Joely Richardson, aunt Lynne Redgrave, uncle Corin Redgrave, and Richardson's maternal grandparents, Sir Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson.

Born on May 11, 1963 in London, England, the flaxen-haired beauty made her film debut at age four in 1968's "The Charge of the Light Brigade," a film directed by her father. Richardson played a flower girl to film's star, Vanessa Redgrave.

Trained at London's Central School of Speech and Drama, the acclaimed stage actress launched her career in regional theatre in Leeds, England in 1983. Her first professional performance in London's West End followed in 1985 when the 22-year-old actress appeared in a revival of Anton Chekhov's "The Seagull."

Starring as Nina - a role in which her mother first made her mark - Richardson was reportedly bruised by comments she overheard after Redgrave joined the cast. Most of the barbs blamed Richardson for copying her mother's magic, not delivering her own star power.

From "Hamlet's" Ophelia to the faded, troubled beauty Blanche Dubois in Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire," Richardson's regal demeanour and smoky voice channelled the essence of the stunning Redgrave as she was in her '60s heydays.

That, however, is where the obvious comparisons ended.

Determined to distinguish herself from other starlets saddled with a famous last name, Richardson appeared in winning stage productions of "High Society" (1987), "Fat Man and Little Boy" (1989) and "Anna Christie" (1993) - a role that earned her a Tony Award nomination.

In 1998 Richardson won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Sally Bowles in the musical "Cabaret." According to critics, Richardson's superlative work blasted any memories of Liza Minnelli's film performance from their minds.

Able to play the seductress as well as a cool terrorist, a caring scientist or a neurotic Southern belle, Richardson's film work was impressive.

Launching her adult career in Ken Russell's "Gothic" (1986), Richardson later appeared in "A Month in the Country" (1987), the biopic "Patty Hearst" (1988) and "The Comfort of Strangers" (1990). But it was her performance opposite Robert Duvall and Faye Dunaway in "The Handmaid's Tale" (1990) that put Richardson on Hollywood's radar.

In 1994 Richardson co-starred with Jodie Foster and future husband Neeson in "Nell," a story about a girl doctors try to civilize after spending years alone in the bush.

Richardson and Neeson married in 1994. It was Richardson's second marriage. In 1990 she wed filmmaker Robert Fox. The couple divorced in 1992.

Other successful film roles included the Disney's 1998 remake of "The Parent Trap," "Maid in Manhattan" (2002), "The White Countess" (2005) (in which "Richardson found "the story's grieving heart" according to Rolling Stone) and "Wild Child" (2008).

A seemingly harmless accident turns fatal

On Monday, March 16 Richardson took a tumble on a beginner's hill at Mont Tremblant ski resort in Quebec. The actress was not wearing a helmet at the time of accident.

Feeling fine, Richardson joked about the fall with a ski instructor who immediately came to her rescue.

The Globe and Mail reported Wednesday that a potentially life-saving ambulance was originally turned away.

Yves Coderre, director of operations at the company which sent the medics to Mont Tremblant, told the Globe an ambulance was first requested for Richardson after she fell.

But when it arrived, the emergency workers were told they weren't needed.

"They never saw the patient," Coderre said, whose company, Ambulances Radisson, serves Mont Tremblant. "So they turned around."

Coderre said that victims of head trauma can often make the potentially fatal mistake of thinking they are OK.

"When you have a head trauma you can bleed. It can deteriorate in a few hours or a few days," he told the Globe. "People don't realize it can be very serious. We warn them they can die and sometimes they start to laugh. They don't take it seriously."

One hour after her fall Richardson was rushed to the Centre Hospitalier Laurentien in Ste-Agathe, Que. after complaining of a headache. She was later transferred to Montreal's Hôpital du Sacré-Coeur.

Neeson flew from the Toronto set of Atom Egoyan's new film "Chloe" to join his wife. Rumours swirled that Richardson was on life support and brain dead. Other reports suggested Richardson was suffering from swelling of the brain.

On Tuesday, March 17 Neeson whisked his wife to a private jet waiting at Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport at approximately 12:30 p.m. Richardson was airlifted to the United States. Unconfirmed reports at the time suggested that the Irish actor was taking Richardson to New York to spend her last hours with her family.

Richardson is survived by her two sons: Daniel Jack Neeson, 12, and Micheal Richard Antonio Neeson, 13.