“After Liam was out of earshot,” Caton-Jones went on, “my cameraman said, ‘Aye, that’s a fine bit of rope on that lad. And not a wee bit of shrinkage on him!’”
We talked regularly with Liam about Ireland’s troubles after he’d played freedom fighter Michael Collins. “On one level, the movie is depressing,” he admitted, knowing too well that his northern homeland was still a war zone.
“But there’s a lot of spirituality in [the movie], and a lot of good.”The week that the Oscar nominations came out that year, I ran into Liam and his wife, Natasha Richardson, at a party at Patroon. I told Natasha that I couldn’t believe the Academy hadn’t nominated him for "Michael Collins," especially after he’d been denied the Best Actor prize for playing Oskar Schindler the year before. Natasha admitted she was angry and vented at some length, on the record. A few minutes later, she cornered me and asked if she could take back what she’d said. She feared that her spousal support would hurt Liam. I suddenly caught amnesia.
But the Academy’s snub may have stung Liam. Three years later, he told me he was quitting acting. “It’s not a decision I made overnight,” he said over a cocktail at II Cantinori. “I’ve been thinking about it for the last ten years.”
Even though he was about to star in George Lucas’s latest Star Wars installment, "The Phantom Menace," Liam contended that Hollywood stunted creativity. “I don’t fit in anymore,” he said. Natasha told me he was just having a mood. “I don’t take it too seriously,” she said. A year later, he was involuntarily sidelined when his motorcycle collided with a deer near their upstate farm (and our own weekend place). Liam underwent major surgery.
Four months later, at a benefit for the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, Natasha told me, “I just thank God that, by a small piece of luck, Liam isn’t sitting where Chris is tonight—or that he isn’t dead.” Liam’s wit was unscathed. He declared victoriously that the deer “was sliced up into sirloin steaks.”
In 2009, at a party thrown by the French consul general, he and I chatted about his habit of taking roles—"Gangs of New York," "Kingdom of Heaven"—where he’s killed in the first act. “Yes,” he said, “but then they talk about me the rest of the movie!” He said he was about to fly to Canada to film "Chloe," in which he promised he’d stay alive till the credits. Three weeks later, Natasha suffered a catastrophic brain injury while skiing in Canada.
Two days after her fall, her family took the forty-five-year-old actress off life support as Liam and their two young sons stood at her bedside. That Sunday, Joanna and I drove upstate to cover the funeral in Millbrook, where they’d been married. We kept a respectful distance on the roadside when Liam and his children arrived. Snow began to fall as he lifted the coffin of the woman who’d always worried so much about him.