Auckland's theatre community is reeling from the death of actress Sophia Hawthorne this afternoon, paying tribute to the daughter of Elizabeth and Raymond Hawthorne.

The grieving parents have paid tribute to their actress daughter following her sudden death today.

"Thank you to everyone who has called and emailed today following the deeply shocking news that our beautiful and talented daughter Sophia has passed away," renowned acting couple Elizabeth and Raymond Hawthorne said in a brief joint statement.

"As you can imagine it is a devastating loss for our family and we ask that you respect our privacy during this time."

In lieu of flowers Mr and Mrs Hawthorne have also asked people to please consider a donation to The Mental Health Foundation.


In a tribute to the Savage Honeymoon star, Auckland Theatre Company artistic director Colin McColl remembered her as a "sweet, sensitive, kind, thoughtful, beautiful girl".

News of Hawthorne's sudden death broke this morning, sending shock waves through the theatre community.

Read more: Top Kiwi actress dies

Hawthorne starred in 16 ATC productions, spanning more than 20 years. In 1994, she starred as Nina in The Seagull, making her ATC debut. Most recently, she starred as Miss Adelaide in Guys & Dolls, opposite Shane Cortese.

In a statement, McColl said: "My enduring image of Sophia will always be her bursting onto the stage, in Michael Hurst's production of Romeo and Juliet wearing a paint-stained white shirt, her thick raven hair flying - her laugh, her smile, her big dark eyes glistening with excitement.

"This was no copycat performance or museum piece Shakespeare but a wholly original, transcendental and modern interpretation of Juliet. What was so extraordinary was her thorough understanding and embodiment of the poetry. Sophia made the language sing, as if it has been written yesterday. She was sixteen years old."

Born into an Auckland theatre dynasty, acting was always in Sophia Hawthorne's blood.

Her father, Raymond, is one of the country's most acclaimed actors and directors. Her mother, Elizabeth, an icon of New Zealand's stage and screen.

Growing up, she was entranced by what her parents and their friends did on stage.

The Hawthornes have asked for privacy as news of Sophia's death spreads, with tributes remembering "a wonderfully spirited woman".

Fellow actors, Jennifer Ward-Lealand and Michael Hurst said it was terribly sad news for the acting community.

"Both because we have lost one of our own but also for the impact this will have on our dear colleagues and friends, Sophia's mother, Elizabeth, her father, Raymond and sister Emmeline. She shone so very brightly in so many productions."

Michael Hurst recalled directing Sophia in a 1993 production of Romeo and Juliet when she was just 16 years old and still at school.

"She played Juliet and she did it so brilliantly. She did things, put things into the role, that I could never have told her to do or directed; it came by instinct and was stunning to watch."

Actor Shane Cortese said: "I'm numb right now, Today the acting community lost a member of our family. I can't help but feel privileged to be the last to sing duets with her, to make people laugh with her, we will miss her. I will miss her."

Another colleague said: "She was regarded as a very fine actress, with great integrity and depth. She had a luminous presence and lit up the stage, leaving audiences profoundly moved. I am shocked and devastated."

A spokeswoman for her agent, Gail Cowan Management, said they would not be commenting today.

Posting on the Herald's Facebook page, a school friend of Hawthorne wrote: "[I] recall how she promised to make her own costume for the school show, which was conveniently not quite ready every time there was a rehearsal - until it was a bit too late to change, then behold Madonna style cone cup bodice! Still makes me smile about it 25 years later!"

Deviating news. So grateful to have known this fabulous, warm and generous being. Much love to the Hawthorne clan x

Posted by Peter Larsen on Thursday, February 18, 2016

No further details relating to her death are known at this time.

Where to get help:

β€’ Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
β€’ Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
β€’ Youth services: (06) 3555 906 (Palmerston North and Levin)
β€’ Youthline: 0800 376 633
β€’ Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
β€’ Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
β€’ Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
β€’ Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (available 24/7)
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.