Thursday, March 19, 2009

Off subject for a moment: On the death of Natasha Richardson

March 19, 2009
Posted by Noah

I’d like to take a few minutes this morning to go just a little off-subject for this blog, though you’ll see that – with my typical breathtaking flair as a writer, ha-ha – that we will ultimately come back. It is a bit grim what I have in mind, to write a bit about the sudden death of famed stage and screen actress Natasha Richardson, wife of actor Liam Neeson. Believe it or not, I had a connection to the couple – not big, but enough to warrant some reflection.

For the second day in a row I find myself transported again to New York’s Hudson Valley.

When I was first starting out as a journalist, as I’ve written before in this blog, I worked for a chain of weekly papers based in a town named Millbrook. Being so close, but just far enough, from NYC, it was home to many famous people. Those that moved there loved the place as a haven from the hysteria of celebrity worship, and the “regular folks” of the town were fiercely protective of these people, and went out of their way to treat them like regular folk. It works quite well, actually. Among the many that live(d) in Millbrook are/were Richardson, Neeson and their two sons.

I eventually became editor of the Millbrook Round Table, the local paper. As editor, I was also a reporter, photographer and layout artist. If you’ve worked in small newspapers, then you know what I mean. As editor in Millbrook I had occasion to know many of the people that lived there, if not by name, at least to say hello to them at the local diner, coffee or antiques shop. Liam Neeson was well-known for riding his motorcycle along the gorgeous and secluded back roads of The Hudson Valley, and one day – it was a Wednesday, I believe, in fall of 2000 – he collided with one of the numerous deer in the area, suffering a crushed pelvis.

I had the good fortune, a week or two after the incident, to be able to go to the home he and Ms. Richardson shared with their boys to interview him about it. It was a normal enough interview, pleasant and no longer than it needed to be. She answered the door, a resplendent beauty in blue jeans, served me a cup of tea – pouring the cream, but not measuring the sugar – and their boys toddled around as toddlers do. I interviewed her husband, then we all chatted pleasantly for a few minutes after the interview about theater, literature and American history. I then took my notebook, shook both of their hands, and left. I was struck by how normal they seemed, even in a place where the famous strove extra hard to be normal.

I’m sorry that she has died, I’m sorry for the pain Liam Neeson must feel, and most of all I hurt for their now teenage sons, whose sadness must know no measure. It is a cruel trick of fate, but death is indiscriminate. None of us gets out alive, no matter how much time and energy we expend ignoring this fact. If, in her death, Natasha Richardson has given people a chance to remember her considerable accomplishments, re-connect with the love in their hearts, to contemplate the fate which awaits us all, and to touch so many people who never knew they could be touched – myself included – then I count her life well lived and her death not in vain.

There is also a Richardson connection to Heritage – albeit small – in the form of two lots in our archives that bear her name. One is a movie poster for the creep John Carpenter movie Gothic, which I hated, and the other is a somewhat odd, and now oddly moving, baseball signed by both she and her husband. It sold for $18 in 2007, with BP.