Liam Neeson today denied he was a racist but failed to apologise as he faced the world for the first time since admitting he wanted to kill a random black man after a friend was raped.
The actor, 66, appeared on Good Morning America in New York and revealed he had sought help from a Catholic priest after spending a week prowling the streets with a cosh to murder a ‘black b*****d’.
Neeson said he ‘understood’ the hurt his words had caused but insisted: ‘I’m not racist, this was 40 years ago. I had a primal urge. I was trying to show honour for a friend I dearly loved, in a medieval fashion’.
The star, who was later hugged by black audience members on the Live with Kelly and Ryan show, said he had gone to church when he became ‘scared’ and realised he had wanted to ‘unleash’ murder on a stranger for his friend, who he said died five years ago.
He said: ‘I did seek help. I went to a priest, who heard my confession’ and also later confided in two friends and would go out powerwalking for ‘two hours a day to get this out of me’.
GMA host Robins Roberts asked him if he ‘understood the pain of a black person’ hearing his words.
He replied: ‘Absolutely, you’re absolutely right. And at the time, even though this was nearly 40 years ago, I didn’t think about that. It was this primal hatred, I guess, that really shocked me, when I eventually came down to earth and saw what I was doing, looking for a fight’.
When asked how he would feel if his unnamed friend’s attacker was white he said: ‘If he was Irish, a Scot or Brit or a Lithuanian. I know I would have had the same reaction’.
Liam Neeson has appeared on TV for the first time to explain his comments about wanting to attack a black man after the rape of his friend and said: ‘I’m not racist, this was 40 years ago’
The star told GMA host Robin Roberts had a primal urge to seek revenge for the rape of a friend 40 years ago
Liam Neeson later appeared on Live with Kelly and Ryan where he was mobbed and hugged by the audience before he defended his decision to speak out
Liam Neeson waves to fans as he arrives at Good Morning America’s studios in Times Square, New York
Describing what motivated him to try to attack a black man he said: ‘Nearly 40 years ago when a very dear friend of mine was brutally raped and I was out of the country and when I came back she told me about it.
Revenge: Liam Neeson (pictured leaving the GMA studio today) ignited a race row after revealing he walked the streets with a weapon looking for a ‘black b*****d’ to kill after a loved one ‘was raped’
‘I had never felt this feeling before, which was a primal urge to lash out. I asked her did she know the person, and his race. She said he was a black man.
‘I thought ok and after that there were some nights I went out deliberately into black areas in the city, looking to be set upon so that I could unleash physical violence.
‘I did it for say, maybe four or five times until I caught myself and it really shocked me, this primal urge. It shocked me and it hurt me’.
Neeson, whose critics have said he should be banned from the Oscars and making movies, said his anger came during the Troubles in Northern Ireland where murder was all around him.
Today he said he spoke out now to encourage others ‘to talk, to open up, to talk about these things – we all pretend we’re all politically correct’.
More than 1,000 people died in 30 years of conflict between mostly Protestants, who fought for Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK against mostly Catholics who wanted it to be part of the Republic of Ireland.
He explained that this is why he chose to speak out about prowling the streets with a weapon and said: ‘Violence breeds violence. Bigotry breeds bigotry’.
The Northern Irish actor, 66, said he was ‘ashamed’ by his ‘awful’ behaviour and told GMA: ‘I went out deliberately into black areas in the city looking to be set upon so that I could unleash physical violence and I did it for, I’d say maybe four or five times until I caught myself on and it really shocked me this primal urge I had.
‘I did want to lash out, yes. Because my friend was brutally raped and I thought I was defending her honour.
‘It shocked me and it hurt me. I did seek help. I went to a priest, heard my confession and I was a catholic. Two very good friends that I talked to and believe it or not, power walking’.
When asked about his friend he said: ‘She passed away by the way five years ago’.
GMA host Ms Roberts asked Neeson whether he hoped people would learn lessons from his controversial words
He replied: ‘I mean, in this country and same in my own, sometimes you scratch the surface and discover this racism and bigotry, and it’s there.’
Ms Roberts said: ‘The point I want to make out is, this wasn’t discovered by somebody, you admitted this, it isn’t a “gotcha”, so I give you credit there, but also having to acknowledge the hurt, even though it happened decades ago, knowing an innocent black man could have been killed’.
Neeson replied: ‘Or they could have killed me too, at the time’.
Neeson told Robin Roberts he understood why black people would be upset about what he said but insisted he was ashamed
The star went on to ABC’s Kelly and Ryan afterwards where he was cheered wildly by the audience, who hugged him and shook his hand
His shocking story has provoked a huge backlash on social media, with many accusing Neeson – who has previously spoken passionately in support of women’s pay equality and gay marriage in Northern Ireland – of racism.
He made the astonishing admission as he discussed his latest film, Cold Pursuit – about a father’s quest for revenge against a drug baron after his son is killed.
The movie is out in the US on Friday and will be released into UK cinemas on February 22, but it is not yet known if he will attend either premiere.
Neeson’s incendiary intervention has split opinion. Some have called for him to be banned from the Oscars or even put out of work for good.
Others called the furore a ‘witchhunt’ and he ‘deserves a medal’ for his admission about how society viewed black people in the 1970s and 1980s.
In his native UK Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan today compared him to the ‘KKK’ and slammed him for the ‘purest personification of racism’.
But former England footballer John Barnes, who faced outrageous racism on the pitch, said Neeson is being unfairly vilified for ‘telling the truth’ about society at the time.
Mr Barnes, who had bananas thrown at him by fans doing monkey chants at him, said: ‘He [Liam Neeson] went on to say was that he was ashamed and horrified by the way he felt. He’s not ashamed and horrified of wanting to commit the act of revenge. He’s ashamed and horrified because that’s what he thought all black people’.
He added: ‘You can’t judge Liam Neeson on 30 years ago, he said after a week he was horrified and ashamed of what he felt’.
John Barnes appeared on Sky News to defend Neeson and said the actor deserves a medal for honesty and for tackling his own unconscious racism 30 years ago
View: Piers Morgan compared Liam Neeson to the ‘KKK’ and slams him for the ‘purest personification of racism’ on GMB on Tuesday after his comments on rape sparked a race row
Detective Sergeant Janet Hills, chairman of the Metropolitan Black Police Association, said: ‘I think it’s disappointing that he has said what he’s said and elaborated on that.
‘People will take a different view as to whether he is right or wrong’.
The actor spoke about an event in his past when an unnamed rape victim told him her attacker was black, he wandered the streets looking for a black man to kill.
Neeson was describing the destructive nature of seeking revenge.
‘She handled the situation of the rape in the most extraordinary way,’ he said in an interview with The Independent.
Strange: Clemence Michallon, US Culture Writer for The Independent who interviewed her, told GMB that Neeson had joked he would find and kill her if she wasn’t careful with the quotes he had given her
‘But my immediate reaction was… I asked, did she know who it was? No. What colour were they? She said it was a black person.
‘I went up and down areas with a cosh, hoping I’d be approached by somebody – I’m ashamed to say that – and I did it for maybe a week, hoping some [making air quotes with his fingers] ‘black b******’ would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could kill him.’
The interviewer, French journalist Clemence Michallon, wrote on Twitter that, at the end of their interview, Neeson asked her take care how she wrote the story.
She said he jokingly used the voice of his character in the film Taken – where he played a former CIA agent trying to rescue his kidnapped daughter.
‘I will leave you with this’, Miss Michallon wrote. ‘At the end of the interview, Neeson politely told me he had a request.
‘He asked – if I were going to use the story he shared, would I be very careful? I said yes – I am always very careful.
‘And then he said, ‘or else’ – and he switched to his other voice, his actor voice, the voice he uses in that Taken phone scene, and he was clearly joking – ‘I will find you’.’
She added: ‘Whether or not that was appropriate remains to be determined. But he said, ‘I will find you’. He said that to me in the same voice.’
In the interview with The Independent, Neeson had been asked about his role in Cold Pursuit – which has its premiere in New York tonight – and the impulse to get revenge for a loved one.
Neeson replied: ‘There’s something primal – God forbid you’ve ever had a member of your family hurt under criminal conditions. I’ll tell you a story. This is true. I’m not going to use any names. But I was away and I came back. And she told me she had been raped.’
Of his thoughts of revenge, he added: ‘It took me a week, maybe a week and a half, to go through that.
‘She would say, ‘Where are you going?’ and I would say, ‘I’m just going out for a walk.’ You know? ‘What’s wrong?’ ‘No no, nothing’s wrong, I’m fine’. It was horrible, horrible, when I think back, that I did that, ‘And I’ve never admitted that, and I’m saying it to a journalist. God forbid.
‘But I did learn a lesson from it.’
Neeson explained that his upbringing made him ‘understand the need for revenge’.
‘I come from a society – I grew up in Northern Ireland in the Troubles – and, you know, I knew a couple of guys that died on hunger strike,’ he said. ‘And I had acquaintances who were very caught up in the Troubles, and I understand that need for revenge, but it just leads to more revenge, to more killing and more killing, and Northern Ireland’s proof of that.
‘All this stuff that’s happening in the world, the violence, is proof of that, you know. But that primal need, I understand.’
New role: During an interview with the Independent to promote his new film Cold Pursuit (pictured), the actor, 66, described how he walked the streets looking for a ‘black b*****d’ to kill
Opinions: Liam’s words ignited a race row on Twitter from fans and some said he shouldn’t be asked to host the Oscars after Kevin Hart was forced to step down after his historic homophobic tweets resurfaced
Neeson’s revelation, and the language he used, provoked an immediate response on social media, with many accusing him of racism for demanding to know the ethnicity of his friend’s attacker.
His use of racist language, even to describe his extreme emotions in the heat of the moment, was described as ‘disgusting’ by one Twitter user.
Another said: ‘It reinforces the idea that people of colour, and especially black men, are collectively responsible for the misdeeds of one.’
Radio 1 presenter Clara Amfo said she was ‘thinking about what broadcaster/host Liam Neeson is gonna use to try to exonerate himself from that ‘admission’ of his’.
Kevin Hart stepped down from hosting the Oscars after homophobic tweets resurfaced from between 2009-201
Irish novelist Marian Keyes posted: ‘I am mortified by Liam Neeson.’
Hollyoaks actress Annie Wallace wrote: ‘Liam Neeson… DAMN! What’s wrong with people these days… not just the horrible thoughts and deeds, but saying things out loud, in a career-ending kinda way.’
Frederick Joseph, who launched a GoFundMe appeal to help take underprivileged children from Harlem in New York to see the Oscar-nominated superhero film Black Panther, tweeted: ‘Liam Neeson being ready to take any Black life over what one person allegedly did just shows how meaningless and inconsequential black lives are to some.
‘Even him telling the story demonstrates a level of privilege and understating that there may not be repercussions.’
Critics also wrote: ‘Well, I’ve seen it all now. Liam Neeson admitted to going around trying to find a black person to kill because someone he was close to got raped by a black person, and the journalist spoke to a psychologist to help contextualise his racism and included it in the article? WILD.
One tweeted: ‘Liam Neeson 1) says he wanted to kill a random black man over an unrelated crime 2) thought this was an anecdote he could share to promote his movie.’
Another said: ‘Wow so Liam Neeson is f***ing cancelled. So if the guy was white you’d go stalking the streets to find a random, unrelated white person to kill? Scumbag.’
One wrote: ‘Congratulations to everyone who had money on Liam Neeson getting canceled this week in their 2019 Canceled Celebs company pool. Didn’t see that one coming.’
Action man: Liam has has critical acclaim and huge box office success over the past decade with his revenge-based thrillers (pictured in 2011’s The Grey)
In his latest film Liam Neeson plays Nels Coxman in Cold Pursuit, a small town snowplow operator intent on tracking down the drug dealers he believes to be responsible for the death of his son.
The film is a remake of 2014 Norwegian film In Order Of Disappearance and also stars Emmy Rossum and Laura Dern.
Big screen star: Although winning widespread acclaim for his role in violent thrillers such as the Taken franchise, in September 2017 Liam said he was done with the genre
Although winning widespread acclaim for his role in violent thrillers such as the Taken franchise, in September 2017 Liam said he was done with the genre, only to return this year with Cold Pursuit.
At the time, Neeson said that he planned to stop even though it’s hard to turn down the lucrative offers he gets thanks to his box-office success in the three Taken films, as well as other thrillers.
‘The thrillers, that was all a pure accident,’ said Neeson. ‘They’re still throwing serious money at me to do that stuff. I’m like, ‘Guy’s I’m sixty-f—ing-five.’ Audiences are eventually going to go, ‘Come on.”
Liam has had a troubled personal life.
Only three weeks ago, he learned that his nephew, Ronan Sexton, passed away, five years after suffering catastrophic head injuries in a 20ft fall from the top of a phonebox.
Ronan was partying with friends in Brighton in June 2014 when he climbed up the kiosk on the city’s seafront but slipped and landed in a concrete subway below.
The tragedy came nine years after the death of Neeson’s wife of 15 years, Natasha Richardson, who suffered a fatal head injury during a ski trip in 2009.
And in yet more heartbreak for the family Ronan’s mother lost her partner Harry Shannon two years ago.
Tragedies that hit the Catholic boy who grew up in a Protestant town
By David Wilkes for the Daily Mail
Horrific: Liam sadly lost his wife Natasha Richardson in 2009 after she hit her head and died in a skiing accident
Reflecting on his upbringing, Liam Neeson once said that growing up a Catholic in a predominantly Protestant town in Northern Ireland during the 1950s and 1960s made him ‘cautious’.
By the time he went to university in the late Sixties and early Seventies and the Troubles had started, however, the caretaker’s son from Ballymena, County Antrim, was beginning to understand all too well another more powerful, and potentially destructive, motivating force.
Friends were caught up in the sectarian violence and some men he knew even went on hunger strike in prison. ‘I understand that need for revenge,’ the Hollywood actor said
Neeson’s life has been marred by tragedy. His wife Natasha Richardson, mother of his two sons, died following a skiing accident in March 2009. The 45-year-old British actress died in hospital in New York two days after hitting her head in a fall at a resort in Canada.
Last month his nephew, Ronan Sexton, 35, died from severe head injuries he suffered five years ago. Mr Sexton fell from the top of a phone box on the Brighton seafront during a 4am dare.
Following Miss Richardson’s death, Neeson admitted that he started drinking too much. But he gave up alcohol after he realised it was getting out of hand.
He told GQ magazine in 2014: ‘Never at work, never would do it like that. But this time of night? Sitting with you, I’d easily have… I’d be on my second bottle. Before we finished, I would have been halfway down a third.’
Neeson became a household name after appearing in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film Schindler’s List.
Tragedy: Liam has had a troubled personal life. Only three weeks ago, he learned that his nephew, Ronan Sexton, passed away, five years after suffering catastrophic head injuries in a 20ft fall from the top of a phonebox
He was nominated for a best actor Academy Award for playing Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who saved the lives of more than a thousand Jewish refugees from the Holocaust by employing them in his factories during the Second World War.
He went on to star in Michael Collins, about the battle for Irish independence, and attracted a younger fanbase as a Jedi master in 1999’s Star Wars prequel The Phantom Menace.
He was in Love Actually in 2003 before films such as Taken saw him find a new career as an action hero.