Neeson in bedside vigil after wife's ski accident

Actress 'flown to New York hospital' after suffering life-threatening head injury on Canadian slopes

By David Usborne
Wednesday 18 March 2009 01:00

Natasha Richardson, the Tony Award-winning actress and daughter of Vanessa Redgrave, was reportedly undergoing emergency treatment at a New York hospital last night for a life-threatening head injury suffered after falling on a ski slope in Quebec. Her husband, Liam Neeson, was at her side.

A spokesperson for the Mont Tremblant ski resort north of Montreal said Richardson, 45, had fallen on a beginners' slope on Monday afternoon.

She seemingly felt no ill effects at first, waving off a recommendation from her private instructor to see a doctor, and returned to her hotel room. According to the resort, Richardson developed a severe headache about one hour later and at that point agreed to an ambulance being called.

She was taken to a nearby hospital then transferred to the larger Sacre-Coeur Hospital in Montreal. Late yesterday, a spokesperson said Richardson was no longer one of the hospital's patients and there were reports that the actress had been airlifted out of Canada to a facility in New York City.

With no official comment from doctors, news reports offered widely differing accounts of her condition. It appeared probable, however, that she was fighting for her life and had possibly been declared brain dead by doctors. Blows to the head, if followed by internal bleeding, can cause patients to enter a comatose state from which they may not emerge.

The resort said she had fallen down a hill in an area called The Flats but had not hit anyone and had risen without any cuts or visible sign of injury.

Richardson, who won a Tony Award for her sizzling portrayal of Sally Bowles in the musical Cabaret on Broadway in 1998 and whose film credits include Nell, The Parent Trap, Maid in Manhattan and A Month in the Country, belongs to the venerable Redgrave acting dynasty, which has gone through its share of controversies – political and personal in nature – and family hardship.

Her mother Vanessa Redgrave, 72, whose acting achievements have on occasion been eclipsed by her radical leftist and pro-Palestinian beliefs, many of which have been shared by her brother, the actor Corin Redgrave, was married to the director Tony Richardson, who died in 1991. The marriage of Vanessa's sister, Lynn Redgrave, 66, broke up in 1998 when she discovered her husband had had a child with their daughter-in-law.

Family members acknowledged that Richardson was in hospital but could say little about her condition. "We know that she has had an accident but we really do not know any more details," said Kika Markham, the wife of Corin Redgrave. "We are very concerned."

Catherine Lacasse, a spokeswoman for Mont Tremblant, said the actress had been having a private lesson without a helmet when she fell. Out of caution, a ski patrol member had accompanied her to her room at the Quintessence Hotel and remained with her.

"An hour later she said she didn't feel well. She had a headache, so we sent her to the hospital," Ms Lacasse said. "There were no signs of impact and no blood, nothing."

Neeson, 56, was on the set of his new film Chloe in Toronto at the time. He flew to Montreal immediately to be with his wife, with whom he has two sons. The couple has their home base in the well-heeled community of Millbrook in the Hudson Valley about 50 minutes north of New York.

In January, Vanessa Redgrave and Richardson played mother and daughter in a benefit performance of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music at the Studio 54 Theatre, the same venue where Cabaret was staged.

The two women were reportedly working together on a longer Broadway run of the popular musical.

Ski perils: The likelihood of injury

An estimated 10,000 Britons a year are injured while skiing. Only last week, the police officer Michael Probert, 42, was killed in an accident at the French resort of Alpe d'Huez.

Dr Mike Langran, an expert on winter sports injuries, said: "Most snow sports injuries occur as a result of an isolated fall. Most of the time the injured person has lost control, often travelling too fast for the prevailing conditions and on a slope inappropriate to their ability level. About 10 per cent of accidents result from a collision with another person or object, 5 per cent are lift-related and 5 per cent occur as the result of equipment failure. Secondary factors are important – for example, impact with solid snow or ice."

Natasha Richardson is not the first high-profile personality to be involved in a serious ski accident. In 1998, Congressman Sonny Bono – of Sonny and Cher fame – was killed as he skied in powdery snow amid trees at a resort at Lake Tahoe, between California and Nevada in the United States. His death came a few days after Michael Kennedy, the son of Robert F Kennedy, also suffered a fatal accident in Aspen, Colorado. In the same month, the singer Peter Gabriel broke his leg while skiing in Switzerland, while in December 2006 Arnold Schwarzenegger broke his leg on a slope in Idaho.

However, injury rates on the slopes have been decreasing because of more sophisticated ski brakes and quick-release systems. Now, only about three in every 1,000 enthusiasts need medical attention and the risk of death is less than one in a million. "I don't personally regard snow sports in general as dangerous sports at all," Dr Langran said. "For a start, the overall injury risk combining all the snow sports is about 0.2 per cent to 0.4 per cent. This is really very low. Think of an average game of football. Usually two or three players end up with an injury at the end of the game."

Chris Green

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