18 MARCH 2009

Actress Natasha Richardson has died at the age of 45 after a skiing accident. Her husband, movie star Liam Neeson, and actress mother Vanessa Redgrave were at her side.

The Parent Trap star was taking ski lessons on the nursery slopes of an upmarket Montreal resort when she took a tumble. Refusing medical assistance she returned to her hotel, but medics were called after she later developed an excruciating headache. She was initially hospitalised in Canada, but was then flown home to New York believed to be suffering from a blood clot.

Announcing her death late on Wednesday night, the family spokesman said: "Liam, 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."

Possessed of a golden beauty and seductive voice, Natasha was one of the most successful members of the Redgrave acting dynasty, which also included her uncle Corin, aunt Lynn and sister Joely Richardson.

Initially hampered by a lack of confidence because of her famous family she hid her pedigree while studying at London's Central School Of Speech And Drama. In her later years, though, she seemed to have made peace with her illustrious background, collaborating with her mother on several occasions.

Recognition came in her own right with a Hollywood career and stage roles such her Tony award-winning performance in Sam Mendes' Broadway production of Cabaret. An experience which gave her a boost in more ways than one.

"There's nothing like standing in front of an audience and singing and dancing half-naked to make you feel comfortable with yourself," she observed.

This feeling of liberation was also helped by relocating to America with Liam, her second husband. An early marriage to theatre empresario Robert Fox ended in 1990, and she and the Irish actor had two children, Michael and Daniel, born in 1995 and 1996 respectively.

"I love living in New York, being free of all that family baggage, being open to all sorts of possibilities," she once enthused.

Born in 1963 to Vanessa and director Tony Richardson, Natasha divided her childhood between a glamorous, bohemian life in Paris and California with her dad, and her London-based mother, a radical, who gave away most of her money to political causes.

As a teenager she spent a lot of time cooking for the assortment of revolutionaries and lodgers Vanessa took in. She would later put her upbringing to good use, becoming a celebrated hostess of Big Apple dinner parties attended by the likes of Ralph Fiennes, Meryl Streep, Laura Linney.

Her most memorable screen outings were in rom com Maid In Manhattan opposite Jennifer Lopez, The Parent Trap as Lindsay Lohan's mother, and James Ivory film The White Countess with Ralph Fiennes.

At the time of her death she was working with her mother on a Broadway production of Sondheim's A Little Night Music.

Photo: Rex
A skiing accident has robbed the acting scene of a luminous talent and Irish actor Liam Neeson of his wife of 15 years
Photo: Getty Images
Natasha had a successful career in movies such as The Parent Trap and 2008 teen flick Wild Child, but limited the roles she accepted to devote herself to the couple's boys Michael and Daniel
Photo: Rex
Three generatations of her family, including mother Vanessa Redgrave and sister Joely Richardson, are actors
In 2005 she starred in the titular role of Shanghai-set drama The White Countess as a Russian emigre who beguiles Ralph Fiennes