Blockbuster action star Liam Neeson turns 65 - The Irish News
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Blockbuster action star Liam Neeson turns 65

Actor Liam Neeson today will mark his 65th birthday

LIAM Neeson may be known as a Hollywood action movie star, but today Ballymena's most famous son officially becomes a pensioner as he turns 65.

An age usually associated with retirement and receiving the state pension, the film star will now be classed - perhaps on paper only though - as a senior citizen.

While it is not known how he plans to celebrate, Neeson is understood to have taken time out of his hectic filming schedule last week to enjoy some early birthday festivities in his home-town Ballymena.

He stayed with his sister Elizabeth during his trip, spending time with close family and friends to mark the significant milestone.

But while many celebrities celebrate turning 65 with extravagant parties, Neeson's past birthdays have suggested he is not a fan of big celebrations.

For his 60th birthday, the widowed star, who lost his wife Natasha Richardson in 2009 in a skiing accident, gathered loved ones together for a low-key dinner in New York.

Speaking at the time the father-of-two, said: "I hate it".

"I'm not going to celebrate it. What am I going to do? Go to a strip club or something like that? I can't do it," he said.

"My sons were saying the other day, 'Dad, we're going to throw you a big party for your birthday'. I said, 'No, we're not'."

Oscar-nominated Neeson grew up in Corlea Gardens in Ballymena and was educated at St Patrick's Secondary School.

As a budding actor, he performed with the Slemish Players before joining the Lyric Players' Theatre, Belfast in 1976, heralding the start of an acting career with movie roles in films such as Taken, Schindler's List and Michael Collins.

Liam Neeson pictured in Ballymena in January 2013 when he received the freedom of the borough. Picture by Hugh Russell

As well as his Oscar nominations Neeson won a special IFTA award from the Irish film academy for his outstanding contribution to Cinema.

The Lyric Theatre's executive producer Jimmy Fay said they "wish Liam Neeson a very happy birthday on this auspicious occasion".

"Liam began his amazing career with the Lyric Theatre back in the mid-seventies when he wrote to Mary O'Malley asking if he could join the Lyric Players," he said.

"She gave him his start here, where he learned his trade playing a vast variety of roles in the Lyric's repertoire over the next few years.

"We are delighted to continue our association with Liam as he is the patron of the Lyric."

Neeson also received the Freedom of the Borough from Ballymena council in 2013.

It came 13 years after he initially declined the award citing tensions after members of the DUP voiced objections in the wake of comments that he had felt like a "second-class citizen" growing up as a Catholic in the town.

Former councillor PJ McAvoy, mayor of Ballymena in 2013, said he has wonderful memories of the day.

"It was a very unique occasion, a special day for him and for myself as mayor," he said.

"He's a man that's very much loved in Ballymena and we all know how much he's in demand across the world.

"I wish him the very best for this milestone birthday and in the future in his health, may it stay with him. I'm sure the people of Ballymena also would wish him the same."

The Ballymena actor received the award for Outstanding Contribution to Cinema from President Michael D Higgins at the 2016 IFTA Irish Film and Drama awards in the Mansion House in Dublin. Picture by PA

Former Irish News political correspondent William Graham, who was the first person to review Neeson on stage in the 1970s, recalled the moment he spotted his star quality.

"As a young reporter for the Ballymena Guardian, I was sent to review a performance of a Dickens play by the Slemish Players, in which Liam was starring," he said.

"He was clearly the tallest man on the stage. But in my review, I singled him out for his commanding stage presence, which years later when I was watched him in Schindlers List, I saw again.

"I was somewhat relieved to have given him a good review in that first written review he received, given the big things he has went onto achieve."

PRESENCE: Liam Neeson as Fr Cristovao Ferreira in Silence

Liam Neeson, pictured in November 2016, during a visit to the Middle East on behalf of Unicef. Picture by AP

The actor joined the Lyric Theatre in 1976

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