What is it about this woman and this death that somehow feels strangely personal, even familial? Celebrities die in all sorts of circumstances, from plane accidents to drug overdoses to violence. But the news that Natasha Richardson was in critical condition created an unexplained sense of sadness which was only compounded when the final verdict was announced. I didn’t know her, obviously, except through her acting and her family association, having in my youth followed her grandfather’s (Michael Redgrave) career and then her mother’s (Vanessa), uncle’s (Corin), and aunt’s (Lynn), even a smidgen of her sister’s (Joely), as well as her father’s, the director Tony Richardson, who put so many interesting plays on film.
Perhaps the familiarity over the years with her family’s accomplishments, having almost grown up with them, may have contributed to this feeling. It could also be that in the last month I watched three of Liam Neeson’s films, one of Natasha’s, and one of Corin’s. One doesn’t really know, does one? But if I were to guess I think the sadness is more professional, a mourning for the loss of a life cut short of its final promise.
I remember thinking a few months ago, as I watched again The Handmaid’s Tale, that Natasha Richardson could have a later career like her mother’s. She, like Vanessa, was drawn to challenging, interesting characters and while in recent years she played the obvious Hollywood circuit (possibly easier to do while raising young children) I always felt, given her penchant for scarred, desperate people (Anna Christie, Sally Bowles), that she would find new acting challenges so rarely offered to women over 40.
Of course, it’s interesting that she eschewed the English theatre of her family and made a name for herself in America, first in Hollywood and then, as is the wont of so many stars, on Broadway. Like her mother she was beautiful, and like her mother she was unafraid of characters that weren’t physically flattering but multidimensional, and her take on them revealed hitherto untapped complexities.
The sadness lies in the thought that maybe her best was yet to come. She will be missed.