Natasha Richardson: Fighting AIDS in Memory of Her Father

Fighting AIDS in Memory of Her Father

British actress Natasha Richardson used to put her money where her heart was when it came to charities– and that was it. But when her father, director Tony Richardson,died of AIDS in 1991, she realized that she wanted to do more than sign a check.

So Richardson, 37, asked the American Foundation for AIDS Research if it could use her help. The answer, of course, was a resounding yes.

Cut short her honeymoon to help

Richardson didn’t just lend her name to amfAR, she started organizing and planning, and she hasn’t stopped since. In fact, she even cut short her 1994 honeymoon with actor Liam Neeson to work on a benefit gala for the premiere of her father’s last film. She and Neeson,who starred together in 1994′s Nell, now have two sons (Michael,5, and Daniel Jack, 4) and Richardson has continued to work steadily as an actress in films and theater. She won a 1998 Tony for Cabaret.

“Whenever it gets to be too much and you think, ‘Aaahhh, I’d rather be with my children or doing anything other than making all these phone calls or writing all these letters,’ then you remember just how many people are sick and dying,” she said in a recent telephone interview. “That just spurs you on.”

Founded in 1985, about two years after attention began to focus on the AIDS epidemic, amfAR has so far raised nearly $166 million for the cause. Funds are raised for AIDS research and prevention,and lobbying for AIDS-related public policy. Though Richardson is not the only celebrity to speak on the organization’s behalf –Elizabeth Taylor and Sharon Stone are also well-known supporters– she is highly valued.

“She is an absolute magnificent pro,” says Jerry Radwin, amfAR’s CEO. Recalling when Richardson hosted amfAR’s 1996 World AIDS Day Luncheon, he says: “It was quite spectacular. She is an incredible presence, so articulate and so clearly motivated. That dedication really comes across to people.”

Richardson will be recognized for her contribution on Nov. 30, 2000, at amfAR’s World AIDS Day Honors. Although the actress says she is “touched and humbled” by the recognition,Radwin maintains that it’s long overdue.

A London native, Richardson belongs to the formidable Redgrave acting clan; she and sister Joely are part of the third generation to pursue the profession. Mom Vanessa Redgrave won an Oscar for 1977′s Julia and continues to act, and dad Tony Richardson,who won two 1964 Oscars (for direction and best picture, for Tom Jones), worked until he died. In fact, Natasha’s first major benefit for amfAR — after a benefit screening of her 1993 PBS filmSuddenly Last Summer — was the 1994 premiere of Blue Sky, her father’s last film, which stars Jessica Lange and Tommy Lee Jones.

Premiering her father’s last film

This particular event served a dual purpose. “At the time, Orion[the studio that produced Blue Sky] had collapsed, so there wasn’t really anyone behind the movie,” says Richardson. “I thought it was important it have an impressive opening, and I knew it would benefit amfAR.”

Most recently, Richardson conceived and masterminded the Unforgettable Fashions of the Oscars dress auction in conjunction with Christie’s auction house. By all accounts, the event was an enormous success,raising over $1.5 million.

“That’s probably the most satisfying thing, to know that the money is going into research to save lives,” she says.

Even though Richardson doesn’t have a major benefit in the works right now — she’s been busy working on her forthcoming films, Wakin’ Up In Reno with Billy Bob Thornton and Never Better –you can bet her work with amfAR will continue.

“I think all people have the responsibility to give back,” she says. “I’ve always thought — I don’t know which gospel it is in the Bible because I’m not very religious — but, ‘Cast your bread upon the water and it shall be returned a thousandfold’ . . . I’ve always felt that very strongly.”