Among those attending were Uma Thurman, Diane Sawyer and Richardson's mother, Vanessa Redgrave, and sister, Joely Richardson.
At 2:20 p.m., shortly after a silver hearse pulled away from Society headquarters on Fifth Avenue, across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Neeson, in a black suit and dark sunglasses, arrived in a black Mercedes and walked quickly inside with one of his young sons, pausing only long enough to greet one mourner.
Longtime Richardson friend, Mathilde Krim, who is the founding chairman of the AIDS research organization amfAR, described the wake as "very respectful." The tearful Krim told PEOPLE that Richardson, looked "beautiful, incredibly beautiful" in her casket.
The previous night, when Broadway paid tribute to Richardson by dimming marquee lights for a one minute, Neeson was captured on tape speaking of "a traditional Irish wake," presumably this Friday's event.
Soon after Neeson's arrival, Vanessa Redgrave showed up with a small child in her arms. As those paying respects continued to stream in, food arrived for the mourners commemorating a woman who will long be remembered as one of the theater world's most graceful actresses. Neeson, who has sons Micheal, 13, and Daniel, 12, with Richardson, married his wife in 1994. They would have celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary on July 3.
In a statement Friday, friend Sarah Jessica Parker, quoting the song lyrics "Every time we say goodbye, I die a little/Every time we say goodbye, I wonder why a little," said: "It's as if Cole Porter were writing the sentiments of everyone who was privileged enough to know, work with or love the late great Ms. Richardson."
Eric Thayer / Reuters / Landov