Tributes pour in for Richardson after skiing death

NEW YORK Thu Mar 19, 2009 7:54pm EDT

1 of 12. Actress Natasha Richardson looks at her husband Liam Neeson as they arrive for the Conde Nast Traveler's annual readers choice award show in New York City in this file photo from October 16, 2006.

Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - The theater and movie worlds mourned Natasha Richardson on Thursday after her death from a severe brain injury from a skiing accident in Canada earlier this week.

Richardson -- a member of Britain's Redgrave acting dynasty, the 45-year-old wife of actor Liam Neeson and an accomplished stage and screen performer -- died in a New York hospital late on Wednesday.

New York's medical examiner said the cause of death was an epidural hematoma caused by a blunt impact, meaning a bruise to the head that caused bleeding in the brain.

"It was ruled an accident," spokeswoman Ellen Borakove said, adding the body had been taken to a funeral home.

A short walk from the New York apartment where Neeson and the couple's two sons were grieving with Richardson's mother, actress Vanessa Redgrave, theaters on Broadway said they would dim their lights for a minute of mourning on Thursday evening.

Fans and her family seemed shocked that what appeared a relatively minor fall on the slopes had ended in tragedy.

"Liam Neeson, his sons, and the entire family are shocked and devastated by the tragic death of their beloved Natasha," family spokesman Alan Nierob said in a statement released just before midnight London time.

"They are profoundly grateful for the support, love and prayers of everyone, and ask for privacy during this very difficult time."

Richardson had been hospitalized in New York since Tuesday, surrounded by Neeson, sons Michael, 13, and Daniel Jack, 12, and members of her immediate family, including her mother.

Film maker Ken Russell, who directed Richardson in the 1986 film "Gothic," said the actress was "always poised, prepared, focused and very, very bright."

"Her beauty was golden," he wrote in The Times of London. "That's the word that keeps coming to mind ... She was one of the few modern actresses who was as smart as she was pretty, and as gentle as she was fierce."

Actress Judi Dench spoke of Richardson's "luminous quality."

"It's just been so shocking, really shocking and I hope that everybody in the family, quietly, can somehow pick up the pieces," Dench told BBC television.

In her blog, actress Jane Fonda recalled meeting Richardson as a girl on the set of "Julia," the 1977 film for which Redgrave won her Academy Award.

"She was a little girl but already beautiful and graceful," Fonda wrote. "It didn't surprise me that she became such a talented actor ... It is hard to even imagine what it must be like for her family. My heart is heavy."

Hollywood actress Lindsay Lohan, who starred with Richardson in the 1998 comedy "The Parent Trap," called her "a wonderful woman and actress (who) treated me like I was her own."

COMPARISONS INEVITABLE

Comparisons with her mother were inevitable throughout Richardson's career.

"She was so like her mother it was almost unreal, and Natasha Richardson never played down the similarity," theater critic Michael Coveney wrote in The Independent.

Richardson followed Redgrave and her father, the late film director Tony Richardson, into a career on stage and screen in Britain and the United States. She won Broadway's Tony Award in the 1998 musical revival "Cabaret."

Richardson was injured on Monday when she fell on a beginners' slope during a private ski lesson at the Mont Tremblant resort, about 75 miles north of Montreal.

A spokeswoman for the resort said Richardson appeared to be in good condition after the fall, but her instructor called a ski patrol to take her to the bottom of the hill.

About an hour later, she complained of severe headaches and was admitted to a local facility before moving to a Montreal hospital where she was diagnosed with severe brain trauma.

"A blow to the head can cause a bruise or rupture a blood vessel that slowly swells, causing pressure to build up inside the skull," said Chris Chandler, neurosurgeon at King's College Hospital in London.

"If that pressure is not relieved it can kill."

(Writing by Mike Collett-White and Claudia Parsons; Editing by John O'Callaghan)

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