Natasha Richardson Dead at Age 45 From Fall at Ski Resort
March 19, 2009 1:06 AM   Subscribe

Actress Natasha Richardson died yesterday at the age of 45 after a fall while taking a beginner's lesson at the Mont Tremblant Ski Resort, located 80 miles northwest of Montreal in Quebec, Canada.

After starring with Liam Neeson in the 1994 Jodie Foster film "Nell," she married him later that year and would later have two sons, Micheal and Daniel. Richardson was born into a family with a very long history of actors and actresses. Her grandfather was Michael Redgrave, and Michael's daughter Vanessa married director Tony Richardson, a union that brought about Natasha and her sister, actress Joely Richardson (best known to some as Julia in Nip/Tuck). (Natasha's aunt is actress Lynn Redgrave.) Her father, who had a "quiet–if not completely closeted–gay life", died of AIDS at age 63; his wife Vanessa made large contributions to AIDS-related charities, and Richardson became very active organizing and planning fundraisers and other related work for amFAR.

An hour after the fall, Ms. Richardson reported she was "not feeling well," and was taken first to a local hospital, then to Montreal's Hopital du Sacre-Coeur, then to NYC's Lenox Hill Hospital, where she passed away.

Richardson began her career as a four-year-old flower girl in her father's 1968 film "The Charge of the Light Brigade", and acted throughout her adolescence, breaking into larger-scale starring roles as Mary Shelley and Patty Hearst, as well as the starring role of Kate in "The Handmaid's Tale." She became known to the Disney-watching crowd as the "nasty wife" in the Lindsey Lohan "Parent Trap" remake, as well as a role in Jennifer Lopez's film, "Maid in Manhattan".

Richardson has been said to have had "talk and die syndrome," but this is simply a referral to "the fact that we always worry about people with head injuries that don't show up immediately, which is why we like to observe people after a head injury for 24 hours." Scientific American's interview with the chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center indicates that she may have had an arterial dissection in a blood vessel in the brain, possibly leading to a brain stem stroke; an epidural hematoma; or an arteriovenous malformation.

While it may be entirely unrelated to the nature of Ms. Richardson's injury, Iraq war veterans have been having similar yet non-fatal experiences where they walk away fine from a brain injury only to feel the effects at a later point. This was covered in Popular Science's August 2008 issue, in a story called "Shock to the System." In it, neuroscientist Ibolja Cernak [...] "believes that blasts may do more than just rattle the head; the shock waves also compress the torso, which may cause pressure waves to ripple through blood vessels like miniature tsunamis, rushing into the brain and damaging tissue." One wonders whether the testing gadget used to monitor for brain trauma might be adapted in the future to civilian use in sports with possible risk of brain injury such as skiing, boxing, etc., in order to prevent the kind of circumstances that may have caused Ms. Richardson's death.
posted by WCityMike (142 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- loup

The only known natural enemy of the celebrity is skiing. Please, celebrities, stay away from the slopes so we may continue to enjoy your lives vicariously.

And I think she was the nice ex-wife in the parent trap remake.
posted by stavrogin at 1:14 AM on March 19, 2009

I feel like I just read a Wikipedia entry and a wholly separate post about brain trauma rolled into one.

That said, she was indeed the ex-wife and mother of the twins in The Parent Trap remake. She also won a Tony for the 1998 Broadway revival of Cabaret; more significant than Maid in Manhattan.

Terrible loss for any family, especially with young children involved, and for the acting world.
posted by cmgonzalez at 1:22 AM on March 19, 2009

I feel unexpectedly badly for Liam Neeson, for whom this must be absolutely devastating. It's always strange to me when I have strong feelings for a movie actor who I have never met, but I am very find of Neeson, and he seems like a decent guy, and these sort of tragedies are just so awful.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:22 AM on March 19, 2009 [34 favorites]

Excellent post. Thanks for taking the time to do a proper write-up.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:24 AM on March 19, 2009

posted by EatTheWeek at 1:24 AM on March 19, 2009

An excellent write up for a notable actress.

My thoughts are with her family.

posted by crossoverman at 1:31 AM on March 19, 2009

I was all set to ignore as newsfilter but great writeup on brain injuries as well. It's always very difficult in an emergency department convincing people who now feel well that they still need to stay in hospital for observation after head injuries, stabbings, chest pain or what have you.

I've also seen a lot of extreme cases but it's always weird how one person can be ejected from a car and walk away fine while someone else can trip and wind up in a nursing home for the rest of their life. Or fall on a beginning ski slope and die.
posted by Silentgoldfish at 1:33 AM on March 19, 2009


Oddly enough, I had lunch with my brother two days ago and somehow we started talking about The Comfort of Strangers, a movie we'd seen back in 1991. It was one of those films that didn't make a lick of sense (not to me, anyway), and we'd only gone to see it because Christopher Walken was in it. My brother commented at lunch "That girl that was in it was hot, though. Who was she?" "Natasha Richardson," I replied. "She played Patty Hearst in a movie, too." Just seems weird that her name would come up out of the blue over lunch, and two days later she's in the news.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:37 AM on March 19, 2009

posted by bettafish at 1:38 AM on March 19, 2009

I was wondering if someone would make a proper post about this sad event. Thanks for doing this with respect.

The consequence of the injury now seems a bit less mysterious too. I wonder if the time will come when skiers without helmets will seem as odd as hockey players who don't use them do today?
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 1:41 AM on March 19, 2009

As if Wikipedia wasn't already useful enough, here's its list of famous people who died skiing.
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:43 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by Joey Michaels at 1:46 AM on March 19, 2009

posted by betafilter at 1:51 AM on March 19, 2009


I second what Astro Zombie wrote. It must be awful for Liam. Nobody I know willever be allowed to ski again.
posted by Brainy at 1:53 AM on March 19, 2009

Last year in January, I was snowboarding for the first time - barely - when my legs went out from under me and I flipped over, the back of my head going *CRACK* against a patch of ice on the slope at some ridiculously high speed that doesn't bear thinking about.

...In retrospect, sacrificing my dignity and personal safety in lieu of plowing through the packed crowd of 100 snot-nosed urchins who laughed at me when I finally reached the bottom was a bad call. At any rate, I shook it off, went back up the lift, and did the *exact* same thing again. Got up again, glared at the urchins again, shook it off and went to dinner with my friends.

That's about when I began feeling waves of nausea.

Due to a childhood of 250 facial stitches from various accidents, a broken nose, and a concussion that had left me blind for three hours, I knew right away what that could mean. I tried to hold out against it for two hours, the nausea started getting worse and then I started suffering some recall problems.

"Dude?" "Yeah?" "ER. Now. You drive me."

After sitting around in the waiting room of the ER for an hour, quietly panicking and trying not to lose my shit about brain damage, I was called over by the nurse working the desk and asked for my personal info. Name, address, phone number, date of birth...

...Hold on a minute, what the hell is my birthday?

Not a clue. After some thinking I could remember the month and the day, but the year I had to work out by subtracting my age from the current date. The nurse and I went on for a further 10 minutes or so, and I was unable to recall about 1/3rd of the key personal information questions they asked me.

Doctor, pills, CAT scan, nervous waiting, and then... you're fine, it was just (yet another) minor concussion. Christ what a scary one.

But not half as scary as it is now, having read about what happened to Natasha Richardson.
posted by Ryvar at 2:16 AM on March 19, 2009 [25 favorites]

I learnt to ski a bit in Norway recently, and did take a nasty fall / bash my head. "Thank fuck I'm wearing a helmet!" I thought.

It is a dangerous thing to do, and it is easy to injure yourself. Was she wearing a helmet?
posted by chuckdarwin at 2:27 AM on March 19, 2009

Richardson has been said to have had "talk and die syndrome,"

That reminded me of something from the NYT article on the nearly-suppressed War Surgery in Afghanistan and Iraq book:

...neurosurgeons treating a blast victim now quickly remove a large section of the skull to relieve pressure, even if no shrapnel has penetrated. Such patients are sometimes able to walk and talk after a blast but then collapse and die as their brain swells.
posted by XMLicious at 2:28 AM on March 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

Brainy, skiing isn't dangerous. You'd be better off telling everybody you know never to drive or, as analogized in the linked BBC article, play football/soccer again. What happened to Ms. Richardson was a tragic accident - and kind of an unlikely one, given that she was on the bunny slopes. (Granted, not all bunny slopes are made alike; I learned to ski in upstate New York's snow belt, but my parents now live in Switzerland, where the easy slopes would qualify as "intermediate" back in Ski Country. I don't know what Mont Tremblant is like, but it's in the Appalachians, which is an older and thus shorter mountain range than the Alps.)

If you take basic, common-sense precautions - don't get too close to other skiers, don't ski faster than you can stay in control, and probably slower than that, keep an eye on your surroundings, and stay on piste - then it's quite safe. I mean, I'm pretty comfortable skiing, and I can hardly even play catch because I flinch away from the ball. And I'm not even a very good skiier - but I know that, and I stay within my limits and have fun.

All that said, I feel terrible for Ms. Richardson and her family, and I hope people have the good sense to stay the heck out of their lives. The Ledgermania was getting ridiculous for a while, there.
posted by bettafish at 2:31 AM on March 19, 2009 [6 favorites]

Awesome write-up, WCityMike.

I watched Nell for an anthropology course I took a few years ago; I remember being very impressed by her acting. And being the hopeless romantic that I am, I'm almost more impressed by the fact that she married her co-star, and that they seem to have managed to stay together for fifteen years. It's sad that that's the exception, and not the norm, these days.

It's kind of scary how spontaneous things like this can be.

posted by Phire at 2:35 AM on March 19, 2009

posted by brevator at 2:37 AM on March 19, 2009

posted by Augenblick at 2:45 AM on March 19, 2009

i was hoping she'd make it. so sad.
posted by lapolla at 3:01 AM on March 19, 2009

Now that's how you do an obit post. Nice job.

posted by IvoShandor at 3:17 AM on March 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

Very best of ObitFilter. I don't know much about her other than having watched the Parent Trap over my daughter's shoulders, but your extrapolations on this type of brain injury made the post well worth reading. I suffered a concussion skateboarding at age 15 -- I went skateboarding at lunch, and came to three hours later in 6th period journalism class, having had no idea how I got there from halfway down Oshaugnessy blvd. I have a very, very hard skull that has seen me through several incidents of head trauma over the years -- I consider myself even luckier today, having read this.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:28 AM on March 19, 2009

I liked her work very much amd she seemed like a lovely person.
posted by jerseygirl at 3:36 AM on March 19, 2009

So awfully tragic and bizarre; truly an unpreventable death.

we always worry about people with head injuries that don't show up immediately...

Yeah, this kind of death is up there with many doctor's worst nightmares. She stood up after she fell, talking and laughing, and felt perfectly fine--no complaint of having bumped her head. This kind of injury is nigh-impossible to detect until it's too late; once the person begins to feel a painful headache, it's pretty much over.

Brainy: Nobody I know willever be allowed to ski again

Oh, for... on average, in the U.S., 34 people die annually from skiing and snowboarding accidents combined. Over 43,000 people die in car accidents. 14,000 people die from falling down while walking. And if you're going to argue that those kinds of deaths are (mostly) unpreventable, and therefore non-comparable because this death was preventable by her not gone skiing, here's one for you: 90 people die from LIGHTNING STRIKES. That's about three times as many as, I repeat, skiing and snowboarding deaths combined. Richardson's death was a freak accident. Give me a break.

Also, doubly eponysterical.
posted by tzikeh at 3:39 AM on March 19, 2009 [10 favorites]



Wonderful actress; she was even more powerful a presence on stage than in films.
posted by tzikeh at 3:41 AM on March 19, 2009


I really feel horrible for her family, such a tragic accident. I was at Tremblant earlier this winter and I was amazed at the amount of helmets I see people wearing. Before it was the occasional snowboarder who ventured into the halfpipe, but now it's an equal amount of skiiers and boarders. I've been wearing a helment now for two seasons and I catch some ribbing from my friends, but I came to the realization that if I ask my children to wear helmets, I should at least wear one myself.

bettafish: "I don't know what Mont Tremblant is like, but it's in the Appalachians, which is an older and thus shorter mountain range than the Alps."

Tremblant is definitely not the Alps, but even the bunny slope near the bottom is pretty steep.
posted by phirleh at 3:49 AM on March 19, 2009

I hate to say it, folks, but if I hadn't been wearing a helmet my first day, I would have had a serious concussion.

I was on the drag lift, and I went all the way to the top for the first time (had been stopping halfway and getting off). At the top, there was an icy little slope. I took it too fast, wasn't ready to be off the lift, etc. and I hit the ground hard. My head fucking BOUNCED.

Helmet = necessity.
posted by chuckdarwin at 4:15 AM on March 19, 2009

Just because it seemed weird that it was left out of an otherwise very impressive post, Vanessa Redgrave also continues to have a remarkable acting career as well as raising two wonderful actor daughters.

posted by hydropsyche at 4:19 AM on March 19, 2009

All I have to say is that skiing must really, really, really fun, because if you work in a hospital with any kind of orthopedics program, you'll see a constant stream of skiing injuries, new and deferred. So many middle-aged people getting their knees reconstructed, etc., so many people hobbling... Then, of course, the lunatics who ski without helmets, and those who don't recognize the inadequacy of most ski helmets. What I don't understand is, why did they take her to Lenox Hill?
posted by Faze at 4:20 AM on March 19, 2009

None of us are guaranteed another day.
posted by ColdChef at 4:28 AM on March 19, 2009 [22 favorites]

The Sun keeps it very, very classy, as ever. Bastards>
posted by chuckdarwin at 4:34 AM on March 19, 2009

I'll bet she was a hellacious Sally Bowles. It's frustrating that legendary Broadway performances are lost in the aether after the show closes. Wish they'd start filming more of them when they wind down their run.
posted by RavinDave at 4:39 AM on March 19, 2009

Then, of course, the lunatics who ski without helmets, and those who don't recognize the inadequacy of most ski helmets

Is there any research that backs up the assertion that helmets should be worn by any sane skiers or that existing standards are inadequate?
posted by rongorongo at 4:42 AM on March 19, 2009

The next time I ski or snowboard, I don't care what kind of dork it makes me, I'm wearing a helmet.

posted by zardoz at 4:48 AM on March 19, 2009


Richardson and Neeson met two years before Nell, when they were on Broadway together in Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie. Some remarked at the time that it seemed their courtship was taking place onstage.
posted by ocherdraco at 4:48 AM on March 19, 2009

posted by sammyo at 4:50 AM on March 19, 2009

Not to belabour the point, but almost everyone I saw skiing in Lillehammer was wearing a helmet. Maybe Norwegians are just cautious.
posted by chuckdarwin at 5:00 AM on March 19, 2009

Only 45 years old. Far too young. My most sincere condolences to Liam Neeson and their kids.
posted by cerebus19 at 5:08 AM on March 19, 2009


A beautiful light has left the world far, far too soon.
I am sad.
posted by spinturtle at 5:11 AM on March 19, 2009

posted by Smart Dalek at 5:19 AM on March 19, 2009

posted by irishkitten at 5:21 AM on March 19, 2009

posted by magstheaxe at 5:22 AM on March 19, 2009

What I don't understand is, why did they take her to Lenox Hill?

Total supposition on my part--I'm betting she was already brain dead when they flew her to NY. So, my assumption is that they moved her so that her mom and sister could visit her before they removed life support without having to go to Canada.
posted by elfgirl at 5:24 AM on March 19, 2009

posted by jonp72 at 5:26 AM on March 19, 2009


I don't know that I've seen anything she's done but like Astro Zombie, Liam Neeson seems like a really decent guy. This must be terrible for him.
posted by hallowdmachine at 5:33 AM on March 19, 2009

First of all, I'd like to express my condolences to her family, and to express my shock that what was reportedly a minor skiing incident led to Ms. Richardson's untimely death.

Second - we bought our kids ski helmets this year, but we opted against them for ourselves. We may rethink that next season. However, having read this article, the following lines brought me up short:

despite the significant increase in helmet use over the past several seasons, the fatality rate in skiing and snowboarding has remained constant


“What [helmets] are going to prevent is the lower-end scale of injuries, such as lacerations to the scalp or mild concussions.”

posted by kcds at 5:34 AM on March 19, 2009

it's so sad.

Liam Neeson had been with a few Hollywood startlets, including Julia Roberts, before he starred with Natasha in a Bway show. he always said she was the love of his life and it was that coupled with how "normal" they tried to live their lives here in NYC that made them one of my favortie celebrity couples.

it really is heart-breaking.

my heart goes out to her kids --i also have two boys of similar ages.
posted by liza at 5:35 AM on March 19, 2009

I don't know Natasha Richardson's work well. I wish I could have seen her on stage. I have always had a great affinity for Liam Neeson and a great respect for Vanessa Redgrave, if for nothing else than the power of her convictions. She comes from people who love their art, but really live their lives, a rarity in the modern world of celebrities that live and breathe their own press releases.

My deepest condolences to her family and loved ones.
posted by readery at 5:37 AM on March 19, 2009

ocherdarco: THANK YOU!

the play was indeed Anna Christie and they did become lovers during the show. Liam and Natasha were one of the greatest Broadway love stories of my generation.

ok, now am feeling really depressed :(
posted by liza at 5:42 AM on March 19, 2009

I feel unexpectedly badly for Liam Neeson, for whom this must be absolutely devastating. It's always strange to me when I have strong feelings for a movie actor who I have never met, but I am very find of Neeson, and he seems like a decent guy, and these sort of tragedies are just so awful.

Seconded. I'm more familiar with his career than hers, but from the pictures I've seen of the two of them -- even recently -- it's glaringly obvious they were smitten with each other.

And this comes fairly soon on the heels of Neeson's recovery from a serious motorcycle accident in 2000, and Vanessa Redgrave's recovery from cancer in 2002.

Dear God: Please stop kicking this family in the teeth. Thank you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:51 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by rtha at 5:53 AM on March 19, 2009

Richardson and Neeson met two years before Nell, when they were on Broadway together in Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie. Some remarked at the time that it seemed their courtship was taking place onstage.

I saw that production. It was one of the top five experiences I've ever had in the theatre. Neeson and Richardson were 100% in the moment, really playing off each other. It was clear I was watching something very private and special.

I've seen Neeson on stage several times. I've never heard anyone say this, but in my opinion he's our greatest living stage actor. He seems to have a sort of b-list film career, but he's THE MAN on stage. If you ever have a chance to see him in a play, jump at it.

I don't usually feel sad when celebrities suffer tragedies. But Richardson's death upsets me. She was much more talented than you'd guess if you only know her as "the nice lady in 'The Parent Trap'," and, from all accounts, she and Neeson were lovely, genuine people -- hardworking and not at all Hollywood pretentious.
posted by grumblebee at 5:55 AM on March 19, 2009 [5 favorites]

And a tangent:

It's frustrating that legendary Broadway performances are lost in the aether after the show closes. Wish they'd start filming more of them when they wind down their run.

Actually, many Broadway shows do have a videotape of a performance archived at the Performing Arts Branch of the New York Public Library. You'd need to make an appointment for a specific show, but they are free to the public.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:57 AM on March 19, 2009 [7 favorites]

posted by fixedgear at 6:01 AM on March 19, 2009

posted by extrabox at 6:01 AM on March 19, 2009

I wondered the same thing about Lenox Hill when I first heard she was being transferred there (and before I heard she was brain dead). I think elfgirl is exactly correct.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 6:02 AM on March 19, 2009

posted by des at 6:09 AM on March 19, 2009

WCityMike, thanks so much for taking the time to craft a thoughtful and fitting tribute to this great actress. Very, very well done.

My heart breaks for the family. It's all just so incomprehensible and sad.
posted by shiu mai baby at 6:19 AM on March 19, 2009

I thought it had seemed very strange that they would airlift someone with a probable serious brain hemorrhage anywhere. I mean, out of Tremblant, maybe if it's more remote than I imagine it to be, but Montreal has some pretty kick-ass hospitals so it's not like she'd desperately need to leave there to get treatment. Elfgirl's theory makes a lot of sense in that context.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:19 AM on March 19, 2009

Thank you WCityMike for the good obit post:

posted by schyler523 at 6:23 AM on March 19, 2009

posted by pointilist at 6:24 AM on March 19, 2009

Contrast with BC (of a few years back, mind) and I was just one of a few on the slopes wearing a helmet. A few runs later, decided to do without, and ran smack into a tree, shearing the branch off with my head. Ow. Back on with the helmet.

Very sad.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:27 AM on March 19, 2009

The couple were dear friends of dear friends of mine -- they were lovely company to be in, relaxed and attentive to 'regular' people. I always had the feeling they had that extrasensory couple thing, knowing exactly where each other was in the room and probably, knowing what each other was saying/thinking despite being divided by a roomful of people. My SO and I always put them on the "happily married couples we know" list. Thank you for this post.
posted by thinkpiece at 6:27 AM on March 19, 2009 [4 favorites]

posted by fuse theorem at 6:28 AM on March 19, 2009

I am so sad for her family.
posted by pointystick at 6:34 AM on March 19, 2009

Helmets are a great idea, but I'm not sure how one would possibly make a difference in a case like this. There was no skull fracture, and a helmet does nothing to prevent your brain from bouncing against the interior of the skull hard enough to weaken or rupture blood vessels. IANAneurologist, but couldn't this happen from slipping in the bathtub or falling off a bunk bed? Anatomical design flaw + happenstance.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:37 AM on March 19, 2009

I'm so sorry you lost a friend, thinkpiece. She was a wonderful actress and seemed to be surrounded by wonderful people. My thoughts go out to her family. I'm sadder about this than I thought I would be.
posted by lysistrata at 6:37 AM on March 19, 2009

posted by orrnyereg at 6:48 AM on March 19, 2009

Natasha Richardson will always who I picture when I think of Mary Shelley and Offred. Given that Frankenstein and The Handmaid's Tale are two of my favorite books, I've always liked her. And she was actually a coherent judge on Top Chef.

My superficial response aside, I feel horrible for her family.
posted by bibliowench at 7:01 AM on March 19, 2009

That is wonderful to hear, thinkpiece.

posted by meerkatty at 7:03 AM on March 19, 2009

posted by pearlybob at 7:07 AM on March 19, 2009

Some other informative articles I found when reading about this last night:

WebMD's Q&A on brain injury in regard to Richardson's fall:

LA Times blog post/op-ed on helmets

and another now from NYT

My story: I've skiied twice in my life, and my second time ended with a whiplash injury caused by not being able to stop plus falling on my face. Following the face plant, momentum kept my torso going downhill, hence muscle pulls in my neck. I got up and skiied away/felt fine, but finally went to the ER hours later when my face started tingling. Luckily, it was only a case of whiplash.

I attributed the injury to the crappy fake-snow icy conditions (don't ski in TN. So not worth it.)
However, Richardson's fall is a reminder that accidents can happen anywhere, any time. I'm in Whistler next week for work, and while I wanted to give skiing another shot, I 'm definitely going to take this accident and the helmet suggestions into account.

posted by NikitaNikita at 7:12 AM on March 19, 2009

posted by hexxed at 7:20 AM on March 19, 2009

. for an especially fine stage actress.

(gah, does the internets not have a database of stage work more complete than Internet Broadway Database and Internet Theatre Database?)
posted by desuetude at 7:25 AM on March 19, 2009

posted by jquinby at 7:25 AM on March 19, 2009

posted by wsp at 7:30 AM on March 19, 2009

MeTa (in a good way)
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:43 AM on March 19, 2009

posted by mcbeth at 7:49 AM on March 19, 2009

. and all that. It occurred to me in the car, and it's in that rather selfish way that those of us who view actors tend to connect with them even though we don't really know them, but Liam Neeson played the role of a father who lost his wife in Love Actually (2003). I don't know how much he may remember that role, but he was endearingly crushed and haunted playing that part. Now that it's come true for him I'm not sure I'll be able to watch that film without breaking down realizing the reality of the fairytale.

. - What a shitty way to go. Treasure today!
posted by cavalier at 7:57 AM on March 19, 2009 [4 favorites]

Very sad, and as many others have pointed out, Richardson's accident really inspires a lot of sober reflection upon life's fragility. I once had a pretty epic tobogganing wipeout (went over a steep improvised ramp, flew off the GT Racer I was sitting on, landed on my feet, pitched forward and did a faceplant at very high speed), and even as I got up laughing about it I was thinking that it could very easily have been a serious spinal injury.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:03 AM on March 19, 2009

It's sad to lose anyone close so suddenly. Who would have thought that a tumble would have such dire consequences. Dr. Sun, neurologist at NY Presbyterian Hospital/Cornell stated this is a highly unusual case. He lists three possibilities that could account for her death.

Wearing helmets skiing or boarding definitely helps prevent injury, however, there aren't any standards when it comes to their safety. How does a consumer know how good any one of them truly is. As a goalie, my mask is tested and CSA approved. Yes, the manufacturer pays for the approval, however boarding helmets aren't. They do come in undorky styles. Friends' kids wear them, they look like baseball batter styled helmets.

Sadly, Sportmask don't make one, yet... here is the owner wearing his own mask during one of his own tests. Puck firing machine [Boni] zipping picks at his head @ 85mph.

Years ago when I started boarding, I wore my hockey pants. I was told, you'll be on your ass. Sure enough, I was and got hammered, even with those pants. I shiver to think I wore no helmet. Today I would.

My condolences go out to her family.

WCityMike, well done post, we thank your insomnia.
posted by alicesshoe at 8:03 AM on March 19, 2009

posted by Iridic at 8:05 AM on March 19, 2009

She was fabulous as the Mother in "The Parent Trap" - WCityMike, you should add it to your Netflix list ;-)
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:10 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by deeparch at 8:15 AM on March 19, 2009

posted by JeffK at 8:22 AM on March 19, 2009

I'll bet she was a hellacious Sally Bowles.

She was. I loved the quote in her NYT obit from Ben Brantley's review of the show, describing how memorably she nailed the title song if not technically, then emotionally. I've never forgotten it; her version was running through my head all day yesterday, particularly poignant lyrics and all.

And thanks, WCityMike, for including a mention of the work she did for amFAR. I always admired how outspoken and involved she was around HIV/AIDS issues, and am surprised by how little it's been mentioned in the press coverage I've seen so far.

posted by keever at 8:24 AM on March 19, 2009

Count me in as another person who's been surprisingly upset by this -- I can't even begin to imagine the devastation Liam Neeson and their two sons must be feeling. I feel heartbroken for them. She was lovely in so many ways.
posted by scody at 8:46 AM on March 19, 2009

When I heard this yesterday, I was surprisingly shocked. I only knew her from the movie Nell, which I loved. Her performance was so... well done. Touching and understated. That makes me think that's how she was in real life. So sad.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 8:53 AM on March 19, 2009

I wear a helmet b/c it keeps my head warm. Not anymore dorky than a toque. The last time I fell hard on ice it did hurt, as they don't stop your brain from jiggling around but I figure it will prevent me from bleeding if I hit a tree.
posted by captaincrouton at 8:56 AM on March 19, 2009

posted by homunculus at 9:15 AM on March 19, 2009

My favorite of her performances was in Widows' Peak, a film with many delightful surprises. OTOH, she was never less than excellent in anything I ever saw, even the low-grade Disney stuff.

posted by ubiquity at 9:42 AM on March 19, 2009

Yeah, even if you don't stop a brain jiggle with a helmet? You'll prevent facial injuries, and broken facial bones, which can be pretty serious. Mr. F biked without one until I explicitly forbid it-- and I'm not that kind of SO, usually. If you ever see an ophthalmologist, ask them for their favorite head trauma story. You'll hear some illuminating things about broken eye sockets that you'll immediately wish you could un-hear.

(Tripped and fell last month walking back to the car. 13 stitches in my face and my lip's still not the right shape. Rolled up, screamed a lot, figured out that my lower lip was hanging about three-quarters of an inch lower than usual, and immediately started running down the Obama administration from the man himself to low-level Cabinet flunkies to assure myself I hadn't just critically failed my Dex save. Went right to the ER all the same. Don't fuck with hitting your heads, fellow MeFites, I like you guys.)

posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:51 AM on March 19, 2009

*shudder* Ooh, the title of the link homunculous posted makes me itch -- the article itself is informative, but that kind of title just strikes me as the kind of thing that her family would see and then spend weeks torturing themselves about, thinking "if only".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:51 AM on March 19, 2009

Another good post at at White Coat Underground. There's an interesting exchange in the comments with a paramedic (I think) who deals with many concussions on the ski slopes.
posted by pharm at 9:55 AM on March 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Start by admitting
from cradle to tomb
isn't that long a stay.
Life is a cabaret, old chum
only a cabaret, old chum
and I love a cabaret.
posted by greekphilosophy at 9:56 AM on March 19, 2009 [5 favorites]

If you are not into pictures of Gigantically Exposed Brains In Sawed-Open Heads, note that pharm's link, while awesome, is graphic.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:57 AM on March 19, 2009

This is indeed sad, such a freak accident. On a bunny slope there is almost no way to fall hard enough to do this kind of damage. So awful for her family.

Skiing I've been doing since about the time I could walk, and i've fallen helmetless jumping off small cliffs, going down double diamond runs, on ice, etc. with no ill effects. That being said, snowboarding, even on easy slopes, scares the hell out of me. If you catch your heel edge, just a bit, the back of your head hits the snow/ice milliseconds later. There is absolutely no chance to react or fall gracefully. On a snowboard, i'd wear a helmet no matter what the conditions.
posted by jester69 at 10:22 AM on March 19, 2009

Alan Cumming, her co-star in Cabaret:
"I, like everyone, am totally devastated by the sudden death of Natasha Richardson. The term 'life force' seems trite but that is what she was: a woman who powered through life and fascinated everyone she encountered. I have been thinking about the times I spent with her since I heard the news of her tragic accident, and the strongest memory I have is of her laughter, her unmistakeable throaty laugh. I think that's a great way to remember someone.

She was a brilliant actress. I will never forget her Blanche Dubois. It was almost too much, too real and raw. Liam and the boys and her whole family have lost an amazing woman. We all have. Goodbye, darling."
posted by ericb at 10:35 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by mike3k at 10:37 AM on March 19, 2009

Very sad. I know nothing about ski accidents but the whole "she got up and walked around for an hour" thing is enormously affecting. In a lot of the red carpet pictures of Neeson and Richardson popping up in news reports about this, they're wrapped round each other, laughing, looking each other in the eyes. They seemed a nice couple. My husband was a waiter in a restaurant Neeson and Richardson used to frequent in NYC in the 90s, and compared to other "stars" they always treated him so very well.
posted by jamesonandwater at 10:40 AM on March 19, 2009

Yeah, you're right fairytale, I probably should have mentioned the gore factor. Sorry guys.
posted by pharm at 10:46 AM on March 19, 2009

posted by Brody's chum at 11:00 AM on March 19, 2009

I recently watched her in A Handmaid's Tale, which is not actually an awful movie. She was a very interesting woman, and it's awfully sad for her to be lost like this.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:09 AM on March 19, 2009

we started talking about The Comfort of Strangers, a movie we'd seen back in 1991. It was one of those films that didn't make a lick of sense (not to me, anyway), and we'd only gone to see it because Christopher Walken was in it.

Me too, Oriole Adams. Scenes from it still pop into my head from time to time like a puzzle pieces looking for their way home. I can't forget certain scenes of Richardson's and Helen Mirren's.

posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:26 AM on March 19, 2009

Just an added link, Celebrity Baby Blog has a short piece on Richardson's passing as well.

Much love to her children and family, this is truly a tragic way to go.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:28 AM on March 19, 2009

New York Coty Medical Examiner: the cause of death was “epidural hematoma due to blunt impact to the head.”
posted by ericb at 11:30 AM on March 19, 2009

"Broadway theaters will dim their lights Thursday in honor of Richardson. Theater marquees will be dimmed for one minute at 8 p.m. EDT, the traditional starting time for evening performances of Broadway shows."
posted by ericb at 11:31 AM on March 19, 2009

Some interesting questions here, posed by a neurosurgeon, including the possibility that she could have fallen as a result of a brain injury.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:37 AM on March 19, 2009

On reading ericb's link--I guess these questions have now been ruled out.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:39 AM on March 19, 2009

I am horrified that photographers were waiting for Liam Neeson when he arrived home. Death should be sacred, since obviously nothing else is... RIP Natasha, you were amazing.

posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:56 AM on March 19, 2009

I am horrified that photographers were waiting for Liam Neeson when he arrived home.

God, yeah. Literally the first thing I thought of when I heard the news that she had indeed died was how Liam Neeson was inevitably going to have to endure a gauntlet of photographers shoving cameras in his face. Because the shock and grief of losing the love of your life isn't painful enough.
posted by scody at 12:22 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

heartbreaking and sobering. i don't ski, but i ride my bicycle every day, mostly sans helmet (and often tipsy). now all i can see is my girlfriend, parents, sisters, friends once i finally push my luck too far. pretty reckless and selfish. never again. and an utter shame that it would take someone else's brutal tragedy to make me see this. namaste, n.r. and whatever comfort the universe can offer to those who loved her.
posted by barrett caulk at 12:34 PM on March 19, 2009

posted by MythMaker at 12:41 PM on March 19, 2009

posted by -t at 1:07 PM on March 19, 2009

So sad.
And freaky, we just passed a bunch of movie trucks at Christie Pits by our house a few days ago, it was Liam Neeson filming an Atom Egoyan movie. Also my brother and his family are skiing at Mont Tremblant right now. Hopefully wearing helmets.
posted by chococat at 2:05 PM on March 19, 2009

posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:11 PM on March 19, 2009

I've been skiing since I was five or six, always without a helmet, and although I've fallen many times I've never received so much as the slightest cut or bruise.

OTOH, I've gotten more into hiking in the past five years or so, and about two years ago I broke my ankle when a rock unexpectedly shifted underfoot.

My conclusion: things you've been doing since you were a kid are perfectly safe. Activities you take up as an adult are fraught with peril at every turn.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:23 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am so sad for the family, they appeared to have a strong solid marriage in the face of Hollywood standards; in the publicity photos they truly looked in love. May the family find comfort and may she rest in peace.

posted by homeless Visigoth at 2:25 PM on March 19, 2009

I saw Liam Neeson in passing on some talk show, forgot who, he was talking about the horse carriages in New York and how he liked horses all that. Seemed like a regular sort of nice guy. And he was a boxer. Just seems like he and his wife were down to earth people despite their celebrity who had their act together. Meanwhile you see people who are trainwrecks continuing to stumble from one situation to the next, not a mark on them. Life just ain't fair man. Never expected it to be of course, but sometimes it's just up in your face about it.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:35 PM on March 19, 2009

posted by h00py at 4:20 PM on March 19, 2009

keever: I loved the quote in her NYT obit from Ben Brantley's review of the show

Here's the full review; I bet it goes a decent way toward explaining how she made her reputation among theater/acting aficionados with her reinvention of that role (which makes it a little odd it wasn't mentioned in the original post):

Sally Bowles has just stepped into the spotlight, which is, you would imagine, her very favorite place to be. Yet this avidly ambitious chanteuse recoils when the glare hits her, flinching and raising a hand to shade her face. Wearing the barest of little black dresses and her eyes shimmering with fever, she looks raw, brutalized and helplessly exposed. And now she's going to sing us a song, an anthem to hedonism, about how life is a cabaret, old chum. She might as well be inviting you to hell.

Not exactly an upbeat way to tackle a showstopper, is it? Yet when Natasha Richardson performs the title number of ''Cabaret,'' in the entertaining but preachy revival of the 1966 Kander-Ebb show that opened last night, you'll probably find yourself grinning in a way you seldom do at musicals these days. For what Ms. Richardson does is reclaim and reinvent a show-biz anthem that is as familiar as Hamlet's soliloquy.

She hasn't made the number her own in the way nightclub performers bring distinctive quirky readings to standards. Instead, she has given it back to Sally Bowles. Ms. Richardson, you see, isn't selling the song; she's selling the character. And as she forges ahead with the number, in a defiant, metallic voice, you can hear the promise of the lyrics tarnishing in Sally's mouth. She's willing herself to believe in them, and all too clearly losing the battle.

For pleasurable listening, you would of course do better with Liza Minnelli, who starred in the movie version. But it is to Ms. Richardson's infinite credit that you don't leave the theater humming the tune to ''Cabaret,'' but brooding on the glimpses it has provided of one woman's desperation...

The tragedy of Ms. Richardson's Sally, which comes closer to the prototype of Isherwood's stories than any other I've seen, is that for all her determination to be a star, she knows she's not very talented. And while Ms. Richardson has a creditable, on-key voice, she uses it to create the imitative period effects of a singer with no style of her own.

There's a moment in each of Sally's numbers when the take-me-or-leave-me bravado slips a little, and you can see her pondering her own limitations. She picks herself up all right, but you can't imagine she'll be able to do it indefinitely. When Sally sings, ''Maybe this time I'll win,'' the hope is purely artificial, and she is more eloquent about a doomed culture's masochism than anything in the show around her. Born-to-lose characters can be tedious, but Ms. Richardson turns this one into an electrifying triumph.

posted by mediareport at 4:29 PM on March 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

Here she is in Cabaret (it's a YouTube link, but it's audio only).
posted by ocherdraco at 6:19 PM on March 19, 2009

Leam Neeson was also in Ethan Frome.

And that is just a weird coincidence.

(It's about a tragic sled accident)
posted by tkchrist at 6:47 PM on March 19, 2009

posted by brandz at 7:07 PM on March 19, 2009


She was the best Sally Bowles.
posted by Mael Oui at 7:35 PM on March 19, 2009

My sister and I had the privilege of seeing Natasha in "Cabaret" and it was such a great show. I am so saddened by the news of her death.

I am another person who grew up skiing sans helmet. This was in the 70s and early 80s. Nobody wore helmets back then. The way my folks looked at it was, ski within your limits, stay on groomed slopes, don't go divebombing into the trees, and you'll be okay. And none of us ever got hurt.

My uncle had the misfortune of falling when he was playing tennis, hit his head on the court, and died from the ensuing brain injury. I don't hear anybody calling for helmets to be worn in tennis.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:52 PM on March 19, 2009

When this whole thing started a few days ago, my wife and I shuddered with the deja vu. This happened to my mother three years ago.

She was in a car accident where she banged her head. She refused treatment at the scene, took care of getting the car towed, called in the accident to her insurance, arranged for a rental car to be delivered, went to work.

About 4 hours after the accident she took a break from seeing patients because she was feeling poorly. And went downhill from there. Groggy, semi-conscious, unconscious, coma, brain dead.

The extended family rushed to the hospital (most from across the country, some from across the Atlantic) and together we let her go 3 days later.

"Epidural hematoma".

My hear goes out to the Neeson / Richardson family. It's a huge shock.
posted by intermod at 8:32 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I learned to skate, windsurf, bike ride, and kayak without a helmet. Yet I wear a helmet for all those activities now, and have for a decade or more. I'll be wearing a helmet skiing on Grouse this weekend, and will continue to, henceforth.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 8:34 PM on March 19, 2009

Anglophenia has a clip of Natasha singing 'Maybe This Time' (beautiful song) from Cabaret.
posted by Mael Oui at 9:52 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

On a trip last May to NYC, my sister and I treated ourselves to dinner at Gordon Ramsay's Maze at the London restaurant. It's a small place with the bar area right next to the tables. As we were seated at our table, there in the small bar area was Natasha Richardson chatting and having drinks with a friend. She was wearing a gorgeous evening gown and was just so lovely and regal and elegant. It hurts to think that she's not with us anymore.
posted by Miastar at 10:00 PM on March 19, 2009


Thanks pharm - that's a great link. It satisfied all the questions that the Natasha tragedy raised for me and the press failed to answer.
posted by w0mbat at 11:07 PM on March 19, 2009

Thanks, Mael Oui, that performance is fantastic.
posted by mediareport at 2:48 PM on March 20, 2009

. My thought are with her family.

Also, as a skier myself, this is terrifying. I had no idea that such minor falls could be fatal. I had a fairly nasty fall a few years back that left me with a concussion and whiplash, but I'm suddenly feeling very lucky.
posted by badmoonrising at 4:53 AM on March 21, 2009

badmoonrising: If one believes the figures at then skiing is actually very safe relative to other sports. It's probably safer than just walking around your own house: trips and falls of the kind that killed Natasha can happen anywhere at all & most of the time people get up, brush themselves down and
keep on going as if nothing much has happened.

Sadly Natasha drew the one in a million short straw, but that doesn't mean that skiing is dangerous: it means that a certain level of risk exists in all walks of life.
posted by pharm at 2:32 AM on March 22, 2009

....I had a minor brainstorm/tribute idea today. I was on my bike, and -- as was, unfortunately, my habit -- I left my helmet behind (I'm hopelessly fussy about my hair/wearing hats, and tend not to). I was already halfway home when suddenly I realized that, you know, I really should have learned something from all of this. So I decided -- from now on, I will wear my bike helmet in honor of Natasha Richardson.

But then I wondered -- is there maybe some kind of honorary helmet drive for bikes or skiiers or something that people could start up in her honor? You know, free helmets to people who otherwise don't have one? Decorate helmets for bikes or skiiers or what have you so they also look really rockin' to encourage people to wear them?

Ideas? Thoughts?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:33 PM on March 22, 2009

I'm with you, Empress. I had precisely the same thought a few days ago while biking. Last summer, a local man died when he crashed his bike on a trail after being attacked by a territorial red-winged blackbird. That kept me in a helmet 'til the snow fell.

I had started out this year consistently neglecting my helmet, then this sad news last week.

I have teenage kids who are resistant to helmets and it's difficult to give a helmet the hipster cred that widespread wear would require. I would like a protective headgear that didn't give me helmet head - if that was possible. I have hair issues, too.

I will remind people, strangers or not when I see them, bareheaded, of Natasha Richardson and how quickly everything can change. A couple of weeks ago I rode past an old man who pointed his finger at me like a male version of one of the fates and said "You should be wearing a helmet." I felt glad he was concerned.
We should all be watching out for each other.
posted by readery at 8:26 PM on March 23, 2009

EmpressCallipygos & readery: Do you wear a crash helmet whenever you're in a car? Do you wear a cycle-style helmet when you're walking along the road, or going up or down stairs?

All of these activities carry at least as much risk of head injury leading to death as cycling or skiing, if not more.
posted by pharm at 12:47 AM on March 24, 2009

pharm, you've got to be kidding. Did you read the links about head injuries that WCityMike thoughtfully included. Shit happens.
It's absolutely ridiculous to compare a helmet while biking to wearing a helmet on stairs. Urban cycling is more akin to riding a motorcycle than walking down the road. It's basic physics. Bike stops - rider goes over the top.
THree years ago I had an accident that should have opened my eyes to the potential for injury. While riding at a pretty fast clip, someone sitting in a parked car just ahead of me picked the worst time possible to suddenly open a door without checking. I remember the feeling of being airborn and trying to adjust myself to land safely, which was difficult as parts of me were hitting parts of the car. My hip hit the top of the open window, my head hit the front of the car and the rest of me was scraped up on pavement. I turned down an ambulance and stupidly did not get information from the driver ( Iwas dazed and confused) and hobbled the five blocks home, only to realize later how badly I was hurt and how lucky I was. The cell phone in my pocket on the side of me that was least damaged was broken beyond repair.
It made me very frightened of riding in traffic. Besides a few routes down side streets I now confine myself to weekend riding on bike paths and in events.
posted by readery at 5:54 AM on March 24, 2009

readery: the comparison is not at all ridiculous. The velocity your head hits the ground if you fall down the stairs head over heels without hitting anything else on the way down is about 30 km/h.

Shit can happen to anyone, anywhere. Cycling and skiing don't appear to be be any worse than most other activities in this regard. I appreciate that your personal experiences may have given you the impression that cycling is particularly dangerous, but the population level statistics simply don't support that belief.
posted by pharm at 1:57 AM on March 25, 2009

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