Liam John Neeson, OBE (born 7 June 1952) is an Irish actor. In 1976, he joined the Lyric Players’ Theatre in Belfast for two years. He then acted in the Arthurian film, Excalibur (1981). Between 1982 and 1987, Neeson starred in five films; most notably alongside Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins in The Bounty (1984) and Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons in The Mission (1986). He landed a leading role alongside Patrick Swayze in Next of Kin (1989).
He rose to prominence when he starred in the title role in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 Oscar winner Schindler’s List. He has since starred in other successful films, including the title role in the historical biopic Michael Collins (1996), the film adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel Les Misérables (1998), the epic space opera Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace as Qui-Gon Jinn (1999), the biographical drama Kinsey (2004), the superhero film Batman Begins as Ra’s al Ghul (2005), the action thriller series Taken (2008–14), the fantasy adventure film Clash of the Titans (2010), the fantasy films in the The Chronicles of Narnia series (2005–10), and the thriller-survival film The Grey (2011).
He has been nominated for a number of awards, including an Academy Award for Best Actor, a BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role and three Golden Globe Awards for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama. Empire magazine ranked Neeson among both the “100 Sexiest Stars in Film History” and “The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time”.
Neeson was born in Ballymena, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, the son of Katherine “Kitty” Neeson (née Brown), a cook, and Bernard “Barney” Neeson, a caretaker at the Ballymena Boys All Saints Primary School. He was raised as a Roman Catholic and was named Liam after the local priest. The third of four siblings, he has three sisters: Elizabeth, Bernadette, and Rosaleen. At age nine, Neeson began boxing lessons at the All Saints Youth Club and later became Ulster’s amateur senior boxing champion.
Neeson first stepped on stage at age 11 after his English teacher offered him the lead role in a school play, which he accepted because the girl he was attracted to was starring in it. From then on, he kept acting in school productions for the following years.
His interest in acting and decision to become an actor was also influenced by minister Ian Paisley, into whose Free Presbyterian church Neeson would sneak into. Neeson has said of Paisley: “He had a magnificent presence and it was incredible to watch him just Bible-thumping away… it was acting, but it was also great acting and stirring too”. In 1971, Neeson was enrolled as a physics and computer science student at Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland, before leaving to work for the Guinness Brewery. At Queen’s, he discovered a talent for football and was spotted by Seán Thomas at Bohemian F.C. There was a club trial in Dublin and Neeson played one game as a substitute against Shamrock Rovers, but he was not offered a contract.
Neeson lived with actress Helen Mirren during the early 1980s. They had met while working on Excalibur (1981). Interviewed by James Lipton for Inside the Actors Studio, Neeson said Mirren was instrumental in him getting an agent.
Neeson met his future wife, actress Natasha Richardson, while performing in a revival of the play Anna Christie on Broadway in 1993. They married on 3 July 1994.
In August 2004, Neeson and his wife purchased an estate in Millbrook, New York.
On 18 March 2009, Richardson died when she suffered a severe head injury in a skiing accident at the Mont Tremblant Resort, north of Montreal. Neeson donated her organs following her death. She and Neeson had two sons together, Micheál Richard Antonio (born 22 June 1995, in Dublin) and Daniel Jack (born 27 August 1996, in New York City).
A heavy smoker earlier in his career, Neeson quit smoking in 2003, while working on Love Actually. When he took the role of Hannibal for the 2010 film adaptation of The A-Team, Neeson had reservations about smoking cigars (which is a signature trait of the character) in the film due to being an ex-smoker, but agreed to keep that personality trait of Hannibal intact for the film. In August 2009, Neeson said that he had been naturalised as a United States citizen. Neeson is a fan of Liverpool FC. In March 2011, he was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF. Neeson is a patron of Belfast based charity and film festival CineMagic, which encourages and helps young people to get involved in the movie industry.
In June 2012, Neeson’s publicist denied reports that Neeson was converting to Islam. However, the actor has expressed an affection for the Adhan, the Islamic call to prayer, that he grew used to while filming Taken 2 in Istanbul: “By the third week, it was like I couldn’t live without it. It really became hypnotic and very moving for me in a very special way. Very beautiful.” He also expressed admiration for the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola.
In the year 2000, Neeson was offered the “Freedom of the Town of Ballymena” by the Ballymena Borough Council, but because of objections made by members of the Democratic Unionist Party regarding his comments that he had felt like a “second-class citizen” growing up as a Catholic in the town, he declined the award, citing tensions. Following the controversy, Neeson wrote a letter to the council, stating; “I will always remain very proud of my upbringing in, and association with, the town and my country of birth, which I will continue to promote at every opportunity. Indeed I regard the enduring support over the years from all sections of the community in Ballymena as being more than sufficient recognition for any success which I may have achieved as an actor.” Subsequently, on 28 January 2013, Neeson received the Freedom of the Borough from Ballymena Borough Council at a ceremony in the town.
Neeson was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II in her 1999 New Year Honours. The American Ireland Fund honoured Neeson with their Performing Arts Award for the great distinction he has brought to Ireland at their 2008 Dinner Gala in New York. In 2009, at a ceremony in New York, Neeson was awarded an honorary doctorate by Queen’s University, Belfast.