Actress Lynn Redgrave has died at age 67
NEW YORK (AP) — Lynn Redgrave, an introspective and independent player in her family’s acting dynasty who became a 1960s sensation as the unconventional title character of “Georgy Girl” and later dramatized her troubled past in such one-woman stage performances as “Shakespeare for My Father” and “Nightingale,” has died. She was 67.
Her publicist Rick Miramontez, speaking on behalf of her children, said Redgrave died peacefully Sunday night at her home in Kent, Conn. Children Ben, Pema and Annabel were with her, as were close friends.
“Our beloved mother Lynn Rachel passed away peacefully after a seven year journey with breast cancer,” Redgrave’s children said in a statement Monday. “She lived, loved and worked harder than ever before. The endless memories she created as a mother, grandmother, writer, actor and friend will sustain us for the rest of our lives. Our entire family asks for privacy through this difficult time.”
Redgrave was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2002, had a mastectomy in January 2003 and underwent chemotherapy.
Her death comes a year after her niece Natasha Richardson died from head injuries sustained in a skiing accident and just a month after the death of her older brother, Corin Redgrave.
The youngest child of Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson, Lynn Redgrave never quite managed the acclaim — or notoriety — of elder sibling Vanessa Redgrave, but received Oscar nominations for “Georgy Girl” and “Gods and Monsters,” and Tony nominations for “Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” ”Shakespeare for My Father” and “The Constant Wife.” In recent years, she also made appearances on TV in “Ugly Betty,” ”Law & Order” and “Desperate Housewives.”
“Vanessa was the one expected to be the great actress,” Lynn Redgrave told The Associated Press in 1999. “It was always, ‘Corin’s the brain, Vanessa the shining star, oh, and then there’s Lynn.'”
In theater, the ruby-haired Redgrave often displayed a sunny, sweet and open personality, much like her ebullient offstage personality. It worked well in such shows as “Black Comedy” — her Broadway debut in 1972 — and again two years later in “My Fat Friend,” a comedy about an overweight young woman who sheds pounds to find romance.
Redgrave’s play “Nightingale” at off-Broadway’s Manhattan Theatre Club in 2009 was the last time she appeared on stage in New York. Lights on Broadway marquees will be dimmed Tuesday.
“She was adored by audiences, and although she embarked on a medical treatment as previews began, she never missed a show and gave magnificent performances eight times a week,” said Lynne Meadow, artistic director of MTC.
“We admired her strength, her talent, her courage and her enormous good heart. There wasn’t a stage hand, a press rep, a box office person who didn’t worship Lynn. She was true theatre royalty.”
Tall and blue-eyed like her sister, she was as open about her personal life as Vanessa has been about politics. In plays and in interviews, Lynn Redgrave confided about her family, her marriage and her health. She acknowledged that she suffered from bulimia and served as a spokeswoman for Weight Watchers. With daughter Annabel Clark, she released a 2004 book about her fight with cancer, “Journal: A Mother and Daughter’s Recovery From Breast Cancer.”
Redgrave was born in London in 1943 and despite self-doubts pursued the family trade. She studied at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama, and was not yet 20 when she debuted professionally on stage in a London production of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream.” Like her siblings, she appeared in plays and in films, working under Noel Coward and Laurence Olivier as a member of the National Theater and under director/brother-in-law Tony Richardson in the 1963 screen hit “Tom Jones.”
“Before I was born, my father was a movie star and a stage star,” the actress told the AP in 1993. “I was raised in a household where we didn’t see our parents in the morning. We lived in the nursery. Our nanny made our breakfast, and I was dressed up to go downstairs to have tea with my parents, if they were there.”
True fame caught her with “Georgy Girl,” billed as “the wildest thing to hit the world since the miniskirt.” The 1966 film starred Redgrave as the plain, childlike Londoner pursued by her father’s middle-aged boss, played by James Mason.
Dismissed by critic Pauline Kael as a false testament to free thinking, the movie was branded “cool” by moviegoers on both side of the Atlantic and received several Academy Award nominations, including one for Redgrave and one for the popular title song performed by the Australian group The Seekers.
“All the films I’ve been in — and I haven’t been in that many attention-getting films — no one expected anything of, least of all me,” Redgrave said in an AP interview in 1999.
“Georgy Girl” didn’t lead to lasting commercial success, but did anticipate a long-running theme: Redgrave’s weight. She weighed 180 pounds while making the film, leading New York Times critic Michael Stern to complain that Redgrave “cannot be quite as homely as she makes herself in this film.
“Slimmed down, cosseted in a couture salon, and given more of the brittle, sophisticated lines she tosses off with such abandon here, she could become a comedienne every bit as good as the late Kay Kendall,” he wrote.
Films such as “The Happy Hooker” and “Every Little Crook and Nanny” were remembered less than Redgrave’s decision to advocate for Weight Watchers. She even referenced “Georgy Girl” in one commercial, showing a clip and saying, “This was me when I made the movie, because this is the way I used to eat.”
At age 50, Redgrave was ready to tell her story in full. As she wrote in the foreword to “Shakespeare for My Father,” she was out of work and set off on a “journey that began almost as an act of desperation,” writing a play out of her “passionately emotional desire” to better understand her father, who had died in 1985.
In the 1993 AP interview, Redgrave remembered her father as a fearless stage performer yet a shy, tormented man who had great difficulty talking to his youngest daughter.
“I didn’t really know him,” Redgrave said. “I lived in his house. I was in awe of him and I adored him, and I was terrified of him and I hated him and I loved him, all in one go.”
Redgrave credited the play, which interspersed readings from Shakespeare with family memories, with bringing her closer to her relatives and reviving her film career. She played the supportive wife of pianist David Helfgott in “Shine” and received an Oscar nomination as the loyal housekeeper for filmmaker James Whale in “Gods and Monsters.” She also appeared in “Peter Pan,” ”Kinsey” and “Confessions of a Shopaholic.”
On stage, she looked at her mother’s side of the family in “The Mandrake Root” and “Rachel and Juliet.”
“Nightingale” touched upon her health, the life of her grandmother (Beatrice Kempson) and the end of her 32-year marriage to actor-director John Clark, who had disclosed that he had fathered a child with the future wife of their son Benjamin. She sat at a desk and worked from a script, but it didn’t affect what the AP called “her touching, beautifully realized performance,” the AP wrote last year.
Lynn Redgrave is survived by six grandchildren, her sister Vanessa, and four nieces and nephews.
A private funeral will be held later this week.