Thursday, March 19, 2009

In Memoriam: Natasha Richardson

The Catholic peace movement and the AIDS community are mourning the untimely death of actress Natasha Richardson (45) as a result of head injuries suffered in a skiing accident. Natasha and her husband, actor Liam Neeson, were friends of Jesuit priest and peace activist Fr. Daniel Berrigan, SJ. He married them and they returned the favor by naming their son after him. When Fr. Dan turned 80 in 2001, Natasha and Liam supplied the beverages for the party.

Natasha's commitment to peace was well-known. In 2000, hers was one of the names on a full page ad in the New York Times protesting the economic sanctions that over the previous decade had killed over a million Iraqis, mostly children under the age of five.

She was the voice of St. Edith Stein in James Carroll's controversial documentary on religiously inspired violence and war, "Constantine's Sword" (2007). And, like her husband Liam who is best known for his magnificent portrayal of Nazi fighter Oskar Schindler in Schindler's List, Natasha also brought out the bravery of those who went out of their way to protect the Jews. In the mini-series Haven, Natasha played Ruth Gruber, the journalist who, in 1944, went on a mission ordered by President Roosevelt's Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes to secretly escort a group of 1,000 Jewish refugees from Italy to America.

But Natasha was best known for her tireless support of AIDS research. After her father died of AIDS in 1992, she became an ardent AIDS activist. She was especially involved with amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research. "When my father died of AIDS, I knew I had to do everything in my power to prevent others from going through what he endured. I support amfAR which provides funds for cutting edge AIDS research so we can find a vaccine and a cure," she said.

Today, amfAR paid tribute to their dedicated trustee: "Ms. Richardson generously contributed her time and resources to amfAR over more than 15 years. In 1999, she spearheaded Unforgettable: Fashion of the Oscars, an auction of Oscar dresses that raised more than $1.5 million for AIDS research.

"Ms. Richardson’s service to AIDS organizations in the United States included work with Bailey House, Elton John AIDS Foundation, God's Love We Deliver, and Mothers' Voices. In the United Kingdom, she was involved in the Aids Crisis Trust and National Aids Trust, for which she was an ambassador. In November 2000, she was honored with amfAR's Award of Courage.

Our hearts go out to Natasha’s family. This is a catastrophic loss for them, and it’s a terrible loss for amfAR and the fight against AIDS. She will be greatly missed by the HIV/AIDS community worldwide.”

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