Lynn Redgrave, who performed nightly in her own solo play in November while undergoing medical treatment, died Sunday night in her Kent, Conn., home after a public seven-year battle with breast cancer.
Redgrave, 67, was not the most glamorous or the most political member of the British acting dynasty, which includes Vanessa, 72, their brother Corin, who died last month at 70, and Vanessa's daughter Natasha Richardson, who died last year of a brain injury after a skiing accident.
But Lynn was the accessible one of the siblings, an American citizen and a popular actress seen often on New York stages and on TV. "There wasn't a stagehand, a press rep, a box office person who didn't worship Lynn," says Lynne Meadow, artistic director of Manhattan Theatre Club, where Redgrave performed her play "Nightingale" last fall. "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. She was true theater royalty."
"Nightingale" was her third play based on uneasy relationships with her family, a series that began in 1993 with "Shakespeare for My Father," about Michael Redgrave, the formidable actor whose bisexuality and affairs were discussed in a memoir by her mother, actress Rachel Kempson, a year after he died in 1988.
Lynn Redgrave was not yet 20 when she made her 1962 London stage debut in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." But her international public self was as the endearing chubby starlet in her 1966 breakthrough movie, "Georgy Girl," which earned her first of two Oscar nominations (the other was for 1998's "Gods and Monsters"). Her weight was also the subject of her Broadway appearance in 1974 in "My Fat Friend," a comedy about an overweight young woman who becomes thin in the course of the play.
She appeared frequently on and Off-Broadway. Many were period plays, including "The Constant Wife" in 2005, for which she earned a Tony nomination (her third). "I do know how to wear a hat," she said in a Newsday interview at the time. "And more important, how to put it on: with one hatpin. That's the secret."
Secrets tended not to stay that way with this disarmingly open woman. In 2004, she and daughter Annabel Clark wrote the popular "Journal: A Mother and Daughter's Recovery from Breast Cancer." It is a photo book that graphically chronicled her own battle. "Each of us had the idea to photograph my experience for our own personal reasons," she said then. "I thought it was a way to get her to look at me; she thought she'd become a part of everything and could be helpful."
A year before, she appeared Off-Broadway in Alan Bennett's "Talking Heads," while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. "It was very hard physically," she said, "But emotionally it was the most fantastic thing I could do . . . Every night, for a couple of hours, I wasn't a person with cancer. You almost feel like yourself when there's so much evidence, mainly the mirror, to show you that you aren't. It was true 'Dr. Theater.' "
That final piece, "Nightingale," was a friendly, compelling, fiercely uninhibited search to imagine a life for her maternal grandmother, a chilly woman she mostly remembered for her cold hands. In the course of 85 minutes, however, she also managed to recap a decade of her famous-family disasters, including her 32-year marriage and catastrophic divorce with actor/manager John Clark, who fathered a child with their son's fiancee.
In a statement Monday, her children Ben, Pema and Annabel said, "The endless memories she created as a mother, grandmother, writer, actor and friend will sustain us for the rest of our lives."
A private funeral will be held later this week.