Liam Neeson’s professional life as an actor has had many faces. After working at the theater, the now-69-year-old starred in films such as Schindler’s List, Silence, and Taken, starring as a Jedi Knight in Star Wars, and Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed Batman trilogy.
The Northern Ireland-born actor has never been big on the Hollywood lifestyle. However, just like many celebrities, his private life has also been in focus throughout his career.
He’s been married once, and his ex-partners include Julia Roberts and Brooke Shields. He also dated Helen Mirren. However, at the time, she was a much bigger star than the then relatively unknown actor. Neeson and Mirren lived together for four years, but they couldn’t withstand the test of time.
So what happened between them? This is all you need to know about Liam Neeson his road towards fame, and the tragedy that changed his life forever.
Liam Neeson was born on June 7, 1952 in Ballymena, Northern Ireland. He is the only son of Barney and Kitty Neeson, who worked as a school custodian and a school cook. He grew up in a Catholic working-class council house.
Liam Neeson – early life in Northern Ireland
As a young kid, Liam Neeson drifted into acting, and by the age of 10, he had started in school plays. He was also a boxer, winning several boy’s championships in different weight classes.
At 16, his boxing career came to an end. He was left with a concussion during a fight – which he finished and won.
“Everything revolved around school, amateur boxing, sports after school. My happiest memories were working on my uncle’s little farm in the summertime, making hay and milking cows,” Neeson told The Belfast Telegraph.
As his boxing career ended, Liam Neeson decided that it was acting he wanted to pursue as his future career. But for the promising young actor, it wasn’t a pretty big fancy theater that became his training ground. Instead, the tradition of theater in Northern Ireland was entirely different and charming.
“My early training was at drama festivals in the north of Ireland,” he told AP in 1990. “Every year, little towns and villages would do anything from Ibsen, Shakespeare, Chekhov, O’Casey, all the Irish playwrights. That was a fantastic training ground, just great.”
At the same time, Neeson worked several other jobs as well. He worked as a forklift driver for Guinness, an assistant architect, and even as a teacher.
Got fired from his teaching job
In an interview with Metro, Liam explained that he truly realized that he wanted to become an actor while working at the Guinness factory. One day at work, a colleague of Neeson’s said, “Liam, what do you want to do in life?”
“Actually, I want to be an actor,” Neeson replied.
The man said, “You could be another Roy Rogers.”
Becoming an actor wasn’t just something one could do, and for Neeson, the most importantly needed money. He worked as a teacher in Newcastle. However, he got fired after punching a 15-year-old who threatened him with a knife.
Even though it was a bad thing to get fired, it was Liam Neeson’s ticket to the theater.
At 24, he decided to join the Belfast Lyric Players and spent two years with the company. After that, he went on to join the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, Ireland, and as he appeared in more and more productions, Liam soon became a very popular person in the Dublin comedy scene.
However, Dublin was never Liam Neeson’s goal. He wanted to go further, and the plan was to get to Hollywood.
Liam Neeson – early acting work
After some smaller parts in television and films, Neeson scored his first lead in a movie, Excalibur, released in 1981. It was only the beginning of what was to be an incredibly successful career, which continues to this day.
The director of Excalibur, John Boorman, discovered Neeson at the Abbey Theatre. He made sure to help the promising actor with everything as he transferred his skills to act in front of the camera instead of on stage.
Excalibur was just the start, as Neeson went on to star in The Bounty alongside Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins and later in The Mission with Robert De Niro. He claimed his first leading role in the superhero thriller Darkman in 1990.
In 1993, the Northern Ireland native took the next step in his dream of reaching Hollywood’s top, as he got the lead in Steven Spielberg’s classic Schindler’s List. Neeson starred as the German industrialist Oscar Schindler, based on the true story of how the German saved more than a thousand Jews during World War II through his metal item factory in Kraków.
The film earned Neeson his first and yet only Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role, with the film winning seven Oscars.
“Not happy” with his performance in ‘Schindler’s List’
Even though Neeson was praised by almost every critic worldwide for his performance, the actor himself wasn’t as pleased.
“To me, it’s not one of my better performances. I think it’s a wonderful film. Steven’s done a really extraordinary film. I’m not happy with my performance,” he said when appearing on The Late Late Show, one of Ireland’s most popular television shows. “Because I don’t see any of me in it, me, Liam Neeson. And Steven directed me very, very, very, very minutely. There were times — there’s a shot there of me with a cigarette, and I was a smoker at the time — he’d be telling me when to smoke, he’d be telling me when to breathe, and I remember thinking, ‘I can’t handle this, I’m not a puppet.’”
“Anyway, there’s a lot of scenes, so when I see it, I’m aware of Steven directing me and exactly how I’d hold the cigarette, and when to breathe, and when to look here, and when to look there,” Liam Neeson added. “So I’m not happy with my performance, even though I think the film is masterful.”
Despite himself not being too happy about his performance in Schindler’s List, the film industry and the viewers were convinced. As a result, Neeson continued getting significant parts in films.
In 1999, he entered the Star Wars universe as he got the role of Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. In the film, he was the person that saw the potential within the young Anakin Skywalker.
This is Liam Neeson’s net worth
Starring alongside the likes of Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor, Neeson gained a fan base of a younger audience through the Star Wars film. But even though fans – who had high hopes for the first new-era Star Wars productions – were quite critical of the film, Neeson loved it.
“I know a lot of fans and critics didn’t like it,” Neeson said on Radio Andy. “I’m very proud of the film. I got to be a Jedi. I got to play with those wonderful lightsabers and stuff, and it was terrific, Andy, it really was.”
In the blockbuster productions, Neeson reprised his role through voice-over cameos in Attack of the Clones and The Rise of Skywalker and had a guest on Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
Only some years after Phantom Menace, Neeson also got involved with Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy: the actor appeared in the first film, Batman Begins (2005), and the third, The Dark Knight Rises in 2012.
Further, some other prominent work by Neeson includes the Taken trilogy, Gangs of New York, Kinsey – which earned him a Golden Globe nomination – and the voice of the lion Aslan in the Narnia films.
As of today, he’s said to have a net worth of around $145 million.
As Liam Neeson rose to the top of the Hollywood ladder, his private life was overshadowed by a profound family tragedy, as his wife, Natasha Richardson, suddenly passed away.
Liam Neeson – relationship with Helen Mirren
Before Liam Neeson met Richardson, he was dating another actress. When working on the set of Excalibur, he met co-star Helen Mirren – and the two hit it off right away.
Neeson was a rookie at the time, as the film was one of his first-ever roles. And Mirren – seven years older than Liam – was already a star.
Speaking with the New York Times, Neeson explained that he quickly fell for his co-star, and those feelings sparked already before he had met here in person. He saw her for the first time in a production of Lady Macbeth.
“She was so sexy. I thought, ‘Gosh, that’s Helen Mirren’! She was as beautiful up close as on stage. Just so human, I was in love with this extraordinary human being,” he told The New York Times. “I was smitten.”
“I fell in love with Helen Mirren. Oh my God. Can you imagine riding horses in shiny suits of armor, having sword fights and stuff, and you’re falling in love with Helen Mirren? It doesn’t get any better than that,” Neeson further said on 60 Minutes about meeting Helen on the set of Excalibur.
On The Graham Norton Show, Neeson recalled further about seeing Helen on the set.
“I remember being on the set and standing with Ciarán Hinds as Helen walked towards us dressed in her full Morgana Le Fey costume and we both went, ‘Oh f**k,’” Neeson remembered. “I was smitten, I think Ciarán was too, but I was very smitten!”
Mirren replied, “I never knew that. You’ve never told me that before. It’s amazing.”
“It was difficult for him to be under my shadow”
Mirren and Neeson hit it off, and she encouraged him to move to London to live with her. The two lived together for four years, and in the beginning, Helen Mirren became a crucial person in Liam’s professional life.
She helped him get an agent – and even became his driving instructor.
When the two met, Neeson knew that Mirren was older than him. However, he never asked the actress her age, as reported by Amomama.
However, at the same time as the two lived together under one roof, Neeson was struggling to get big gigs. Meanwhile, Mirren’s career was going great, and according to the actress, that was very tough on Liam.
“It was difficult for him to be under my shadow,” Mirren told The New York Times. “I was well known; I had the money.”
That would, of course, later change. First, however, Mirren explained that she had “a sense from Liam that it was time for him to come out from under my wing.”
After almost five years together, the duo decided to split.
“He handled it with great elegance and grace. We loved each other. It was difficult to let go,” Mirren added.
Liam Neeson – wife, children, family
Liam Neeson dated Brooke Shields for a short while before meeting his wife, actress Natasha Richardson. In 1993, the two worked together on the Broadway show Anna Christie, and just as with Mirren, it didn’t take long before they fell for each other.
“I’d never had that kind of explosive chemistry situation with an actor or actress,” he said. “We just had this wonderful kind of dance-free dance on stage every night. She and I were like [Fred] Astaire and [Ginger] Rogers.”
However, Richardson was already married to producer Robert Fox at the time. Her marriage was falling apart, and at the same time, she “fell very much in love” with Liam.
On her birthday, Neeson sent her a friendly happy birthday card, with Richardson replying, “this is like a letter from a buddy. What is our relationship?
“That was when I knew I really loved this person,” Neeson explained on 60 Minutes. “I thought, ‘This is real and genuine and is something that has to be protected.’”
Neeson and Richardson married in 1994. They welcomed sons Micheál and Daniel, and for many years, the family lived happily in upstate New York.
Tragic passing of wife Natasha Richardson
However, in 2009, tragedy struck. As Richardson was skiing near Montreal, she fell and took a blow to the head. In the beginning, no one, including Richardson, thought it was severe. However, it turned out that she had suffered serious trauma and it turned out that the impact had left her brain “squashed up against the sided of her skull.”
“I was told she was brain dead. She was on life support and stuff,” Neeson recalled. “And I went in… and told her I loved her. I said, ‘Sweetie, you’re not coming back from this. You’ve banged your head. It’s – I don’t know if you can hear me, but that’s – this is what’s gone down.’”
In the end, Neeson understood that he had to remove her from life support. On 60 Minutes, he explained that the two had “made a pact” that if either one of them got into a “vegetative state,” they were to “pull the plug.”
Natasha passed away on March 18, 2009. But one comforting thing for Neeson was finding her wife’s organ donor status. He said that her heart, liver, and kidneys went to people in need.
“[She] would be very thrilled and pleased by that,” Neeson added.
“She brought me so much joy”
Liam Neeson and his boys were grieving. But the widower turned to work to help him through his grief.
On 60 Minutes, Liam explained that he did it to show strength for his sons.
“I’m not good without work,” he said. “And I just didn’t want to, especially for my boys, seem to be wallowing in sadness or depression,” Neeson said.
“They say the hardest thing in the world is losing someone you love,” he wrote. “My wife died unexpectedly. She brought me so much joy. We have to stop and be thankful for our spouses. Because, one day, when you look up from your phone, they won’t be there anymore. What I truly learned most of all is, live and love every day like it’s your last. Because, one day, it will be.”
Liam Neeson has been through a lot. Being able to function after losing the love of his life is admirable, especially considering that children were involved.
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