Liam Neeson discusses Natasha Richardson’s death at length with Esquire

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Liam Neeson managed to get through promotional rounds for several films without discussing his late wife. Natasha Richardson died in March of 2009, and since then, Liam has promoted a half-dozen films, and only now, in the March cover story of Esquire, is Liam addressing Natasha’s death in any detail. The full Esquire piece is worth a read – Liam is an interesting interview beyond his grief, and the story is one of the better-written Esquire pieces I’ve read in a while. He’s promoting Unknown, the action/thriller/suspense with Adian Quinn, January Jones and Diane Kruger. Before I get to the Natasha stuff, here are two interesting excerpts that I liked:

On consenting to a television interview during a Knicks game: “I had to do it, Tom, because they gave me those tickets,” he says. “Because, well, you just get nothing for nothing, right?” Neeson speaks with more brogue than you’d expect, and somehow less, so that the same word — nothing — sounds both hissed and sung in the same sentence. “And before we go on the air, the woman says to me, ‘I’m going to throw you a question, something like, “Mr. Neeson, if Star Wars is on one channel and Schindler’s List is on the other, which one do you watch?”‘ And oh, but that gets me started. I mean, I start to tell her, one represents six million people, six million lives, the other is just, just …” — and here he climbs the word as he says it — “fantasy! But then my boy steps in and — he’s so smart — says, ‘Excuse me, ma’am. Why don’t you say Star Wars on one channel and Taken on the other?’ That’s what made me happy. And I looked that way, because right before I went on, my son, he can see I’m still aggravated, so he just steps up to me and says, ‘Smile, Dad, smile.’ And that’s my bonny boy. His mother just shines through him at moments like that.”

He has a dog: “It’s Natasha’s dog. A tiny, tiny little poodle. And I don’t like walking it. I don’t want my picture taken walking in the park with her poodle. Too dramatic, too sad. It’s her dog. Hers. And people know that. So …” he says, raising an eyebrow here impossibly high. “It’s a thing for me just now,” he says, ticking out a small dark laugh. “We have a farm upstate,” he says, leaning forward a bit, picking up his wineglass without the least bit of theater or pretense. “The thing nobody knows is, that dog and I are like this.” He knits his fingers. “She knows. She knows. I mean she knows. As soon as we’re out of the city, she’s up in the front seat of the car, up in my lap, and she never leaves my side. She waits, Tom. I swear it. And we’re all over that farm, this little poodle and me. Everywhere. She’s like a working dog up there. She’s given herself over completely. She’s just a damned good dog.” And this is the moment — late in the meal, late in the afternoon — when Neeson looks like what he is, what Richardson herself was: an ex-smoker. He is a man in deep need of a timely terminal exhale to punctuate this story, to separate himself from the next thing he says, now thrice repeated. “That’s why it’s a thing for me just now.”

[From Esquire]

The thought of Liam and Natasha’s dog bonding in the country is… extraordinarily moving. At some point, Liam and the interviewer discuss Liam’s near-death experience in 2000, when Liam crashed his motorcycle and Natasha had to rush to the hospital because the doctors told her Liam wouldn’t make it. He tells a bittersweet story about fighting with her at the hospital at that time, saying that if she thought he was going to die, she should have gotten him a priest. And then… he opens up about her death. Here is the Liam talking about Natasha, with minimal edits:

“I’d been to Montreal maybe twice before. And for some reason, I thought the city’s this size.” He holds his hands out in front of him then, cupped like he is drinking water.

“I thought that it was this little comfortable little city,” he says. “And for some reason, I thought the hospital that I was in a taxi racing toward was gonna be a nice little hospital, about twice the size of this restaurant. But it was this huge, glassy, black place. A Dickensian place, Tom.

“I walked into the emergency — it’s like seventy, eighty people, broken arms, black eyes, all that — and for the first time in years, nobody recognizes me. Not the nurses. The patients. No one. And I’ve come all this way, and they won’t let me see her. And I’m looking past them, starting to push — I’m like, F&#*, I know my wife’s back there someplace. I pull out a cell phone — and a security guard comes up, starts saying, ‘Sorry, sir, you can’t use that in here,’ and I’m about to ask him if he knew me, when he disappears to answer a phone call or something. So I went outside. It’s freezing cold, and I thought, What am I gonna do? How am I going to get past the security?

“And I see two nurses, ladies, having a cigarette. I walk up, and luckily one of them recognizes me. And I’ll tell you, I was so f’ing grateful — for the first time in I don’t know how long — to be recognized. And this one, she says, ‘Go in that back door there.’ She points me to it. ‘Make a left. She’s in a room there.’ So I get there, just in time. And all these young doctors, who look all of eighteen years of age, they tell me the worst.” He purses his lips, mouth dry. “The worst.”

This is the point where he stops again. He blinks back tears, takes a long look at the table across from us, where members of Natasha Richardson’s extended family are, coincidentally, having lunch in this same restaurant. (He and Natasha, this was their place, so it’s only a mild coincidence.) I wait. Again, I tell him how sorry I am. Neeson nods.

He went back to shooting Chloe, after the funeral. “I just think I was still in a bit of shock,” he says. “But it’s kind of a no-brainer to go back to that work. It’s a wee bit of a blur, but I know the tragedy hadn’t just really smacked me yet.”

Now the no-brainer is staying with the work, the good work, as it piles up on him. “I think I survived by running away some. Running away to work. Listen, I know how old I am and that I’m just a shoulder injury from losing roles like the one in Taken. So I stay with the training, I stay with the work. It’s easy enough to plan jobs, to plan a lot of work. That’s effective. But that’s the weird thing about grief. You can’t prepare for it. You think you’re gonna cry and get it over with. You make those plans, but they never work.

“It hits you in the middle of the night — well, it hits me in the middle of the night. I’m out walking. I’m feeling quite content. And it’s like suddenly, boom. It’s like you’ve just done that in your chest.” Here Neeson reaches out and twists both hands in opposite directions, like he’s corkscrewing two ends of a soda can, reaches toward me so it’s clear: This is in his chest. He shakes his head at the thought of this one thing, this single hideous bead on the necklace of his life. He speaks as if he were regarding its cruelty anew, though this too cannot be. He’s too smart to feel singled out by what happened to his wife. Her death, with its painfully curious timeline — the simple fall, her apparent clearheadedness, followed by the swift, merciless brain hemorrhage? Brutal and extraordinary. Neeson’s experience at the hospital — the mix-up at reception, the chaos of the ER, the arrival of the security guard? Vivid and, at the same time, banal. Just another hospital story; everyone has them. This doesn’t mean they don’t hurt. When he says, “It’s just extraordinary,” Neeson is referring to the persistent depth of pain, the ruinous visitations of grief, even now, two years later. That stuff is all his very own.

[From Esquire]

Oh, God. I just… I want to comfort him. I want to give him a big hug. That’s all I really have to say.

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Photos courtesy of Esquire.

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69 Responses to “Liam Neeson discusses Natasha Richardson’s death at length with Esquire”

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  1. devilgirl says:

    The poodle story made me tear up. : (

  2. brin says:

    I’ve always loved him as an actor but I so admire him as the man he is. So open to his pain. You just want to grieve with him. God bless him.

  3. sarah says:

    Oh, God. I just… I want to comfort him. I want to give him a big hug. That’s all I really have to say.

    Me too.

  4. Johnny Depp's Girl says:

    Come to me Liam.. I will take care of you and cook and cuddle and whatever you need…

    Damn that moved me. He’s a great actor. I loved Natasha too, she was so beautiful. Ohhhhhhh, I’m gonna cry.

  5. Rita says:

    It’s such a difficult thing to realize when one is suffering but the depth of the loss is a true reflection of the height of the blessing he had. Hope some day he can look down from the height instead of up from the abysis.

  6. renai(jrt) says:

    i cant believe its been two years. seems like just yesterday. so sad and yet this is life and it happens to all of us.

  7. mln76 says:

    I know the town he is talking about upstate it’s lovely I can picture him up there walking with his dog. I hope he can feel some kind of peace up there. What a beautiful sad man.

  8. Jackson says:

    Ahh. I just love this guy. Love him as an actor, and love him as a person from all that I’ve read and heard about him. Yes, a big hug for him and the little white poodle, too.

  9. DetRiotgirl says:

    I almost didn’t read this story, because I knew I would cry. His story is so sad. Truly, my heart breaks a little bit thinking about him driving around with his wife’s dog.

    My boyfriend’s family has a really horrendous medical history. Everyone in his family seems to get cancer, and everyone seems to die young. Compare and contrast that with my family, who generally all seemed to be blessed with good health well into their 80s and 90s and you have a picture of two very different futures in this relationship. I am always telling him that family history is no guaruntee of anything. He could be the first person in his family to live to 100, or I could die in a car accident tomorrow. In fact, I was in a serious car accident a few months ago. So, really, anything can happen.

    However, he frequently talks about how he doesn’t expect to make it to 50. His mom passed away a couple years ago, and it’s been very hard for him to let go of that. I find myself saying things to him like “How about you shoot for 60? I want at least another thirty years with you.”. I try to make it sound like I’m joking around. But, to be honest, it scares me to think that I might lose him at 40 or 50 and that I would have to go on to 80 or 90 without him. I don’t know how I would ever get over the loss. He means so much to me, and I can’t imagine the profound sense of loneliness that would permeate my life if he were just suddenly gone.

    So, my heart really goes out to Liam. I wish him all the best.

    Btw, I’m sorry to get all teary eyed on everyone like this. I promise, I’ll bring back the regularly scheduled snark later!

  10. Sarah says:

    and now, I’m crying.

  11. L says:

    Oh my god the story about the poodle. Bawling my eyes out.

  12. jen34 says:

    Liam has always been one of my favorite actors. My heart breaks for him and his family. I wish him peace and hope he finds happiness again.

  13. sisi says:

    Never has an interview brought me to tears, until today.

    And then when I wiped them away, I get teary eyed again by your story DetRiotgirl.

    And I’m sitting in my college cafeteria. I hope no one noticed.

  14. cranky chica says:

    It’s no surprise to me that he’s discussing her death near the two year anniversary. You think if you get past the first year, everything will go back to normal. The second anniversary jumped out and smacked me hard. Sometimes I think the second year alone is worse than the first. That’s when you find out work can’t erase the pain.

  15. Schnauzers!!!! says:

    My heart just breaks for him and their beautiful children. (and the dog.)

  16. Stephie says:

    Makes me want to buy the mag, just for this article. Love Liam. Best to him.

  17. Roma says:

    Liam’s Esquire piece was amazing. I heart him and echo the hug offers.

    But. It was written by the same author who wrote the Brooklyn Decker article last month and tons of commentators tore him apart for being a bad journalist. Obviously, he can only go as far as his subject allows him. Liam, amazing. Decker, box of hair.

  18. RHONYC says:

    loved him as the tormented, but kicka*s ‘darkman’.

    loved him as the dad who killed to get his daughter back from ruthless sex traffickers in ‘taken’.

    love him as a graceful widower who lovingly keeps his sweet wife’s memory.

    so touching. :-)

  19. Arianna says:

    i’m tearing up and i’m neither a crier nor am i pmsing…

    best wishes for this man!!

  20. Lola7 says:

    Yup, lump in the throat. :(

  21. Abby says:

    ach, this interview breaks my heart.

  22. TQB says:

    Thank you for covering this. Every time I think about them, it makes me want to go home and hug my husband. It may be selfish or voyeuristic of me, but I am glad he’s talking about her and his loss. I hope it helps him with his pain.

  23. Kaiser says:

    Roma – thank you for that. The journalist had to fill-in a bunch of nonsense when he’s interviewed an air-head, but when he gets to interview someone like Liam, he’s quite capable and moving.

  24. Isabel says:

    What a genuine sweetheart. I want to join the Liam group hug.

    I also love that he is such a pleasant, kind man…and can play such cold characters. I’m going to watch Liam movies all weekend. Love to Liam.

  25. I Choose Me says:

    Great article. Great actor. He seems like such a lovely man. So did his wife.

    *Is that a lump in my throat?*

  26. Babette777 says:

    @Rita…I love your response, and agree. When love is so great and so deep, so, too, is the grief when it’s lost.

    Liam Neeson is class and wonderful, and I wish him peace.

  27. PJ says:

    DetRiotgirl: Family history is a factor in what diseases you are prone to get, but it’s not necessarily a predictor of life span because of improved medical care. So you may get the same diseases as your ancestors, but the outcome may be different thanks to modern medicine. Your lifestyle can make a big difference as well. So make sure your guy gets his checkups and does everything he can to prevent getting some of things that plagued his relatives.

  28. meg says:

    I so identify with this beautiful man. In high school, my (seemingly) perfectly healthy boyfriend dropped dead of a brain aneurysm. It changes how you see life, people, relationships…I just wish I had the grace that he has.

    My thought is: when that dog dies…he’s gonna go through it all again. But it’s all worth it, for love.

    Ok- I’m done. Gonna go cry now.

  29. lola lola3 says:

    he is amazing.

  30. LunaT says:

    Such a sad story. They both seem/seemed like truly nice people.

    I want to give Liam a hug, too, and set him up w/my mom!

    DetRiotGrl—Your boy needs to get going w/some positive phrasing (or whatever my mom calls it. She’s always telling me that my thoughts and words shape my environment and future). Not to get all woo-woo on you, but his head space does effect his reality and his perception of it. His longeivity isn’t completely out of his hands. I wanted to give you a hug, along w/giving Liam one, b/c I bet it’s hard on you, too. Worrying about him stressing and about him living a long life. Random BTW— I was born in Pontiac :)

  31. Rita says:

    “I could have missed the pain but I would have had to miss the dance.”

    Garth Brooks

  32. Danny says:

    What a story. It is clear it still hurts a lot. It’s now a part of him and he pushes on. That last paragraph reminds me of A Grief Observed by CS Lewis on the death of his wife.

    “‘Smile, Dad, smile.’ That’s my bonny boy.” Man, that’s good.

  33. REALIST says:

    The interview looks well written.
    He lost the love of his life, so sad. Yet, the image of him and the tiny poodle frolicking up at the farm-that makes me smile just a bit.

    I had a Siamese cat who was like that to me when my mom died.

    May the little poodle live a long life comforting his/her master and keeping him company. Sometimes it’s the little things that help carry you through the grief.

  34. NayNay says:

    I love him! He is an amazing person. Reading this brought tears to my eyes. It is just so sad. I feel awful for him and his family.

  35. original kate says:

    the dog story broke my heart. damn.

  36. Rachel says:

    Liam Neeson was my first real crush and 20 years later I still love him. He just seems like such a lovely, down to earth man.

    I wish they’d used the gerber daisy shot for the cover.

  37. Dizzybenny says:

    “I’m out walking. I’m feeling quite content. And it’s like suddenly, boom”
    Same thing happend to me when my dad died.I didnt cry the whole time the funeral went on.I was thinking what the hell is wrong with me?My father was my biggest influence in my life wtf is wrong with me? And then it started 2 weekes later at work wich by the way dont help for sh*t!!I felt welting up,I had to run to the bathroom and I started crying sobbing for 10 minutes.I could not control myself.It went on for 9-10 months that out of the blue i would start crying.It will be 3 years in June that my father passed away and it STILL not an easy thing to deal with.
    So I have no problem in believing his pain for the death of his wife.

    ”…well i guess I’m going to wake up everyday,breath in and out and remember that for a short time i had it perfect!” Tom Hanks (Sleepless in Seatle)

  38. mln76 says:

    @Dizzybenny My dad died in 2002 it never gets easy to deal with but it does get better. I know the party line of alot of therapists etc is that you get over a death in 6 months to a year but that is B.S. it takes something like 5 years to fully grieve the loss of a loved one(or it did for me). The sudden moments of tears happen a lot less often and now they make me a bit happy because he is still a part of me.

  39. Kloops says:

    Oh my, that is intense but also sweet. So lovely to read of a true Hollywood love that transcended their fame.

  40. Roma says:

    @Kaiser: Esquire has been putting out some amazing pieces as of late. I just couldn’t believe that people were bashing the author when little miss BD couldn’t tell the difference between Shaq & Woody Allen in a photo.

    I’m not sure if you ever covered it but he also “interviewed” Halle Berry. It’s… something. Please please read if you haven’t. It was from 2007.

  41. Jen says:

    Absolutely heartbreaking.

    And meg, I thought the same thing.

  42. K-MAC says:

    my heart just breaks and aches for him…. :(

  43. K-MAC says:

    I remember when my dad died in 95, the shock was not measurable. I could function without emotion for quite some time until it built up like a pressure cooker and then I would sit in the corner of a room and sob uncontrollably… As time passed it got better, but there are moments at night I wake up, my heart racing, my mind spinning and I still wonder why, why is he gone? strange

  44. the original bellaluna says:

    How very heartbreaking; and how very wonderful to have loved and been loved like that.

    Liam’s a class act, all the way.

  45. LittleDeadGirl says:

    I’m right along with everyone else when I say I almost teared up a little when he started talking about his wife. Not because I feel so close to him but because how he talks about grief is so perfect. My best friend died almost four years ago and I was the same way. I thought, I thought I’d cry for two weeks and be over it but truth was I cried for two days and than felt numb and I thought I was over it.

    … and than a week later, a month later, a year later, I’d be walking along think of her and cry again. It sneaks up on you like a mother fucker. I can’t imagine his grief and I hope reporters are respectful and don’t ask him too many questions. It think it’s wonderful he hasn’t discussed it too much, it’s obvious that’s painful for him, unlike other celebrities who seem to use the death of a loved one as a way to promote themselves in this really sick fashion.

    mln76: I think the figure is closer to five years too. I don’t mean you spend five years crying but it took an intense amount of time for me. I still cry about it now sometimes. I don’t think you ever get over such things, maybe you become functional in 6 months, sure, but get over it? How are you supposed to get over memories. It’s what makes us human.

    My heart goes out to all who’ve lost a parent. I’m so close to my family I don’t know how I’ll function when either of my parents die or my brother. It scares me.

    DetRiotGirl: Ha ha, I’m with you girl. I hope your boyfriend makes it to 90. I’m gonna bring back my scheduled snark but we can all show we’re a bit human once in a while … not tooo often … but ya know … every full moon or so

  46. Ari says:

    I love this man so much. He is in “that” league of actors (and men) that you just always will find some thrill watching them on the screen (Eastwood, Fiennes, Irons, Hopkins, etc)

    Real decent guy.

  47. dj says:

    I have always been in love with Liam Neeson since the mini-series “A Woman of Substance.” That was years ago and he is still exactly the type of lovely, deeply caring man I thought he was (apparently, from this piece). He and his wife seemed so in sync together. It breaks my heart to read this and moves me. I almost didn’t read this either because I knew I would cry. Yep. I did. God bless him and his bonny boys.

  48. Zelda says:

    I love Liam Neeson…

    This is also a really well-written piece (well, until the end of the 2nd excerpt, but still). A very interesting read.

  49. truthSF says:

    Rita:

    “I could have missed the pain but I would have had to miss the dance.”

    Garth Brooks
    ——————————-

    Thanks for that Rita.. Listening to “The Dance” right now. It was always my favorite, especially when my daughter’s father passed away.

    edit: Rihanna totally stoled his piano piece for her song “unfaithful”.

  50. Camille says:

    I <3 Liam too. Really sad, but interesting interview. :(

  51. Aqua says:

    I could certainly feel his pain and sense of loss in this interview,to have found someone and to have had the kind of love that those two have shared I think is rare.

  52. Dingles says:

    That is heartbreaking.

  53. mary jane says:

    I just can not believe it’s been two years….

  54. Kim says:

    Tearing up – such a nice man, such a beautiful woman. So sad about her tragic passing. My prayers to him and their children.

  55. bored says:

    Gah! Heartbreaking.

    He is a handsome man though. One of those who got better looking the older he got.

  56. chasingadalia says:

    Beautiful man, wonderful actor. My heart breaks whenever I think about it.

  57. Trashaddict says:

    I think spouses are different than parents, I literally lost a sense of potency when my mom died. It has been 5 years, they diagnosed her with terminal cancer in August and she was dead by Thanksgiving. That was too short a time to deal with the reality of it, I can’t imagine losing anybody as fast as he did. No chance to say goodbye is so awful. It is so great he sees Natasha in his son’s character. He is so lucky to have that.

  58. CeeCee says:

    Finally a real story about a real actor. Yeah I know it’s a gossip site but nice to read something about a celeb worthy of their status. Respect to Liam…. what a man

  59. CB Rawks says:

    God, that’s so heartbreaking. Just makes you stop breathing while you read, and imagine going through that yourself. Best wishes and love to Liam.

  60. Emma says:

    First picture, sadness in his eyes.

  61. Patty Dolan Tervo says:

    Liam, my heart and thoughts and prayers go out to you kind sir. It is not easy, and you will never “get over” losing your precious Natasha. But you will learn to live without her and eventually memories of her will warm your heart and bring a smile to your lips. I lost my husband in a tragic accident 19 ago, and still not a day goes by that I don’t think of him. Loving and losing someone you loved so deeply makes you the person you are, and you are a good man. Year 2 was definitley more difficult for me also, but it will get better with time, and it does get easier to bear. God Bless you Liam, and may God gently cradle Natasha in the palm of his hand ’till you are reunited in heaven.

  62. UrbanRube says:

    Isn’t it amazing to see a genuine love like this? And heartbreaking to imagine the pain of loss.

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  64. O'Connell says:

    My husband died in Dec, 2011. It helps meto hear him talk about Natasha. I appreciate your covering this. I

  65. gg says:

    Natasha was one of my favorite actresses. She was a special, special lady.

  66. lola lola says:

    God love the Irish for being strong and squishy both at the same time. He is an extraordinary man.

  67. midnightmoon says:

    my condolences to those of you who have shared their losses here. hugs to all of us-we are not alone in finding a tender part of our hearts gone missing. love.