LOS ANGELES - Well-known British actress Natasha Richardson, who was hospitalized in New York for suffering a severe brain injury after she fell on a beginners slope during a private ski lesson at the Mont Tremblant resort in Canada, died on Wednesday at age 45. Her death has reignited the debate among medical groups over helmets on ski slopes.
Award-winning actress Natasha Richardson, a member of Britain's Redgrave acting dynasty, died on Wednesday at age 45 after a suffering a severe brain injury in a skiing accident in Canada earlier this week.
Richardson had been hospitalized in New York since Tuesday, surrounded by her husband, actor Liam Neeson, her two sons, Michael, 13, and Daniel Jack, 12, and members of her immediate family including her mother, actress Vanessa Redgrave.
"Liam Neeson, 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," family spokesman Alan Nierob said in a statement.
Richardson followed her Oscar-winning mother and her father, the late film director Tony Richardson, into a career on stage and screen in England 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 (120 km) north of Montreal. A spokeswoman for the resort said she 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 medical facility before eventually being transferred to a Montreal hospital where she was diagnosed with severe brain trauma.
Tuesday afternoon with Neeson by her side, she was flown to New York and admitted to the Lenox Hill Hospital, where her family rushed to her bedside in her final hours.
Theater came first
Richardson was born in London in May 1963, and she trained at the city's prestigious Central School of Speech and Drama.
She was perhaps best known worldwide for film roles that included playing a young Lindsay Lohan's mother in the 1998 remake of "The Parent Trap" and for her role in the Jennifer Lopez romantic comedy "Maid in Manhattan."
But first and foremost she was a theater actress, equally at home on the stages of London's West End and New York's Broadway. She won a most promising newcomer award in 1986 for her London performance in "The Seagull," opposite her mother, and later won a Tony as songstress Sally Bowles in "Cabaret."
Tony voters also nominated Richardson for her 1993 Broadway debut in a revival of Eugene O'Neill's "Anna Christie." She competed against her aunt, Lynn Redgrave, for the best actress award, but both lost to Madeline Kahn.
Richardson also enjoyed a prolific television career with starring roles in the BBC production of Henrik Ibsen's "Ghosts" and the 2001 CBS mini-series "Haven."
Her latest movie role was as a strict English boarding school headmistress in the 2008 teen comedy "Wild Child." Richardson and Neeson, 56, worked together on 1994 Jodie Foster drama "Nell." The couple married in July 1994 and had Michael and Daniel Jack. Her first marriage, to filmmaker Robert Fox, lasted two years.
Richardson's sister is the "Nip/Tuck" star Joely Richardson. She is the granddaughter of late British actor Sir Michael Redgrave and niece of actors Lynn and Corin Redgrave.
Debate reignited on ski helmets on ski slopes
The death of British actress Natasha Richardson from a severe brain injury following a skiing accident has reignited the debate over helmets on ski slopes.
Richardson was reportedly not wearing a helmet. Helmets, once rarely seen on skiers or snowboarders, have become increasingly popular but the jury remains divided on their effectiveness and whether their use should be compulsory.
Some medical groups, including the Association of Quebec Emergency Room Doctors, have called for helmets to be mandatory, claiming 60 percent of head traumas could be avoided, and some countries are introducing laws over helmet use for children.
Some skiers and snowboarders resist wearing helmets, complaining they are too hot or muffle sounds, while some fear it encourages risky behavior by giving a false sense of security. Sales of helmets in Germany have doubled since a skiing accident in the Austrian resort of Styria in January that left one woman dead and German politician Dieter Althaus seriously injured, his life believed to be saved as he wore a helmet.
Austria, which has recorded about 30 ski-related deaths this season, is now introducing a new law requiring all children under 14 to wear helmets on the slopes.
The Australian Ski Areas Association supports wearing helmets but says the decision is a personal or parental choice as helmets are most effective at providing protection at speeds of under 12 mph and may not stop or reduce serious injuries at high speeds.
The National Ski Areas Association, or NSAA, of the United States estimated 43 percent of skiers and snowboarders wore helmets in the 2007-08 season compared with 25 percent five years ago.
The NSAA urges skiers and riders to wear a helmet but stresses that people's behavior on the slopes counts most, with skiing and snowboarding no more dangerous than other high-energy participation sports, with 39 deaths on average a year.
It cited researcher Jason Shealy, who studies ski-related injuries and found recent research indicated helmets cut the incidence of any head injuries by 30 to 50 percent but these were the minor injuries and wearing helmets had not cut fatalities.
"The increase in the use of helmets has not reduced the overall number of skiing fatalities," said the NSAA in a statement. "More than half of the people involved in fatal accidents last season were wearing helmets."