Family and friends surrounded the bedside of Natasha Richardson to say their final farewell as her "shocked and devastated" loved ones made the heartbreaking decision to take her off life support.
Husband Liam Neeson, mom Vanessa Redgrave, sister Joely Richardson and Richardson's two teenage sons were among those gathered at the 45-year-old actress' bedside when the gut-wrenching decision to end her life was made last night, the Daily News reported.
Richardson was brain dead after suffering serious head trauma during a freak skiing accident on a bunny slope at a Canadian ski resort Monday afternoon.
An autopsy of the actress is currently underway at the New York City medical examiner's office and results should be made available later today, the AP reported.
"Liam Neeson, his sons and the entire family are shocked and devastated by the tragic death of their beloved Natasha," a family spokesman said. "They are profoundly grateful for the support, love and prayers of everyone, and ask for privacy during this very difficult time."
A heartbroken and stone-faced Neeson returned to his Upper West Side apartment with his two sons after he made the grim choice, waving solemnly to a crowd that had gathered outside his Manhattan home, the New York Post reported.
Film stars Meryl Streep and Lauren Bacall flocked to their friend's bedside at the Lenox Hill hospital in Manhattan yesterday to pay their final respects.
Starlet Lindsay Lohan, who rose to fame after she starred with Richardson in "The Parent Trap," said she felt Richardson who played her mother in the 1998 remake took the actress -- now 22 -- under her wing.
"She was a wonderful woman and actress and treated me like I was one of her own," said actress Lindsay Lohan, who was 12 when she filmed "The Parent Trap" with Richardson. "I didn't see much of her over the years but I will miss her. My heart goes out to her family. This is a tragic loss."
Many in the entertainment world were stunned by the sudden loss of the award-winning actress and tributes began flowing soon after her death was announced.
"For all her talent and beauty, she was egoless," Miramax's Harvey Weinstein told the N.Y. Daily News.
"She was gracious, kind, funny, and a tireless crusader for those living with HIV and AIDS," the News quoted Broadway star Cheyenne Jackson as saying. "A class act, and a beautiful woman."
Though there was little reliable news of Richardson's condition after the accident, her family's demeanor signaled that the actress was in dire straits.
Redgrave, appeared dazed and grim as she walked into the Manhattan hospital Tuesday and Richardson's sister fought back tears as she brought her teen nephews to see their mother, the New York Daily News reported.
There were conflicting reports about the extent of Richardson's injuries but People magazine quoted a family friend saying she had "leakage of blood between the brain and skull" and that she will not recover.
When news broke of Richardson' injury, a red-eyed Neeson rushed to be by his wife's side at fifth-floor intensive care unit the Sacre-Coeur hospital in Montreal.
As he prepared to make the tearful journey home to New York with his wife, he knelt in the back of the ambulance with his eyes fixed on her intensely -- gazing at the woman he married 15 years earlier as she lay in a hospital bed wrapped in blankets with tubes covering her face, the Toronto Star reported.
Neeson sat in silence as he caressed her face and held her hand during the ambulance ride to the Manhattan hospital after their plane touched down in New Jersey. She was "unconscious," pale, her pupils "non-reactive" and described by members of the ambulance team as "brain dead," a source told TMZ.
The News reported that the heartbroken family held a vigil at the hospital as they faced the somber task of deciding how to take her off life support.
"The rule of thumb is: You have two neurological exams, 12 hours apart, to show that there is no evidence of higher brain activity," Dr. Philip Stieg, chairman of New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell's department of neurological surgery told the Daily News.
"If that is so, the patient is brain-dead; they are clinically dead," he said.
The neurological department chair said the family of a brain-dead patient has two options: turning off the ventilator to make the individual's heart stop beating or prolonging life.
Richardson apparently showed no signs of physical trauma after she initially fell and tumbled down a beginners trail during a private ski lesson at Mont Tremblant, Usmagazine.com reported.
"She was laughing and joking" after the accident, a spokeswoman told People magazine.
The British-born actress was not wearing a helmet at the time of the fall but was "accompanied by an experienced ski instructor who immediately called ski patrol," a spokeswoman said.
Richardson "did not show any visible sign of injury" was brought to the bottom of the mountain by the ski patrol, which insisted she see a doctor, the spokeswoman said. An hour later the actress was taken by ambulance to the hospital after she complained of severe headaches.
Doctors not involved in her case but experienced with head injuries told the AP that her reported symptoms are consistent with a blood clot in or around the brain, which can occur when a blow to the head or neck causes one or more blood vessels to rupture.
"There are at least two major conditions that can happen after a head injury," said Dr. Charles Tator, a neurosurgeon at Toronto Western Hospital. "One is the development of a blood clot. And the blood clot could form inside the brain tissue itself or between the skull and the brain."
Richardson, the daughter of celebrated actress Vanessa Redgrave and the late producer Tony Richardson, married Neeson in 1994 after they both appeared in the film "Nell" and they have two sons, Michael 13, and Daniel 12.
She won a Tony award for best actress in a musical in 1998 for her portrayal of Sally Bowles in a 1998 production of "Cabaret." Her film credits include "The Parent Trap" and "The Handmaid's Tale."
In January, Richardson and her mother played the roles of mother and daughter in a one-night benefit concert version of "A Little Night Music," the Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical, at the Nokia Theatre in New York City.