Here is a sweet-and-sour tale of Manhattan life. It’s all true. I share this story in the wake of the tragic and sudden death of Natasha Richardson. It’s a tale that exemplifies her abundance of spirit and sly playfulness. This story should be classified under the “be careful what you wish for” category.
In August, 1995, I joined AmFAR (The American Foundation for AIDS Research) as their publicist. On my very first day of work, I was decorating my office. Like a besotted teen girl, I was festooning my cork bulletin board with photos torn out of magazines. Among them was a New York Times magazine portrait of tall drink of water Liam Neeson, brawny and bare-chested.
My boss Sally Morrison — who had clearly attended finishing school with Cruella DeVille — entered my office and spotted the photo on my board. She purred in her British accent, “Well, Natasha and Liam are longtime supporters of AmFAR, so perhaps one day you will meet him.”
Fast forward to World AIDS Day – December 1995 – at The United Nations. We were honoring our new spokesmodel, Sharon Stone. The host for this luncheon was actress Natasha Richardson, who had lost her father, audacious filmmaker Tony Richardson, to AIDS just four years prior. My job that day was to conduct the press conference before the ceremony for Natasha and Sharon. As Sally and I were entering the green room, she sprinted ahead of me to greet Natasha, who had become a friend over the years.
My boss gestured towards me and said crisply, “‘Tash, this is Jay Blotcher. He’s our publicist – and he happens to have a mad crush on your husband.” This was Sally’s signature sadism at its best.
I turned red. And then green. I smiled weakly at the gorgeous Mrs. Neeson. In response, Natasha shrugged, rolled her eyes good-naturedly and deadpanned, “Join the multitudes.”
After making pleasantries and preparing for the press conference, I pulled Sally aside. Staring her down, I vowed, “It may take me awhile, but I will pay you back for this.” She feigned innocence.
The UN luncheon went marvelously, with Natasha as a flawless emcee, and both Sharon Stone and Archbishop Desmond Tutu honored for their work.
That evening, there was a reception at AmFAR cofounder Dr. Mathilde Krim’s elegant townhouse on the Upper East Side. About an hour into the event, the Neesons arrived and walked into the ornate foyer.
I saw them from afar and gulped. That schoolgirl sensation was kicking in again. I vowed to myself to steer clear of them; it would be too distracting otherwise. Within a half-hour, however, Sally came up to me and said, “It’s now or never, Jay.”
Before I had a chance to ask what in hell she was talking about, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I was spun around and found myself looking into the beautiful face of Natasha Richardson. She gave me a sly look, grabbed my hand and said, “Jay, I want you to meet my husband”
“No, no, no, no, please” I found myself whining. Natasha actually had to drag me several feet across the polished marble floor to make introductions. We stopped in front of this handsome mountain of a man who looked at me quizzically. Natasha moved closer to her husband, stood on tiptoes and whispered something in his ear and then looked back at me. The blood drained from my face. Liam Neeson turned to me with an expansive crinkly-eyed smile and took my hand in his huge paw.
Want to know how flustered I was? I could only croak out the pedestrian response, “Thank you for coming; I really like your work.” At that moment, I actually felt faint. An honest-to-goodness swoon! I immediately excused myself and went to the bathroom to splash water on my face and hid out for a couple of minutes before the vertigo subsided.
When I returned to the party, Sally came over to me, radiating synthetic concern. “I had nothing to do with that,” she insisted. When the Neesons arrived, Sally had greeted him. Natasha then asked her, “So, where’s that guy who likes Liam?” Sally insisted that she simply sent Mrs. Neeson my way.
From then on, I felt a little awkward about having Liam Neeson looking down upon me from my office pin-up wall. But I am forever grateful to Natasha Richardson for being a good sport and letting a smitten fan have a moment with her husband. Her death tears at my heart.