During an interview with Britain's The Independent, the Irish Oscar nominee-turned-action star revealed that when he returned home from an overseas trip and learned a loved one had been raped, he went looking for revenge.
"There's something primal - God forbid you've ever had a member of your family hurt under criminal conditions," he said before launching into the never-before-heard story.
"She handled the situation of the rape in the most extraordinary way," Neeson told the outlet. "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 (nightstick), hoping I'd be approached by somebody - I'm ashamed to say that - and I did it for maybe a week, hoping some 'black bastard' would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could - kill him."
Neeson, now 66, looks back at the incident with shame and regret.
"It was horrible, horrible, when I think back, that I did that," he says. "And I've never admitted that, and I'm saying it to a journalist. God forbid."
He says the experience taught him a serious lesson: when overcome with such emotion, he needed to stop and ask himself, "what the (expletive) are you doing?"
He continues, "I grew up in Northern Ireland in the Troubles", referring to the decades-long strife between Catholics, who wanted to split from the UK and form a united Ireland, and Protestant loyalists who wished to remain.
"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. That primal need, I understand."
Neeson never elaborated on when the rape or his subsequent attempt at revenge took place. Interviewer Clemence Michallon later requested a follow-up interview with the Schindler's List star, who is in the midst of a press tour for his new film Cold Pursuit, to discuss the incident further.
"He declined," Michallon noted. "But as Neeson said, the story has now been told for the first time. Perhaps that's enough."
The Independent also published a companion op-ed piece by an editor of colour, Kuba Shand-Baptiste. She writes: "I'm glad Neeson was so forthcoming about this story because it has shed light on a phenomenon that too few understand."
The actor's story contains a bigger lesson than stopping oneself and asking, "What the (expletive) are you doing?" she writes.
"I'd argue that there's something even bigger to glean from all of this. Whether we like to admit it or not, racism has and will continue to have a far deeper psychological impact on society than many of us realise."
"You just asked what colour were they? I don't care how sorry you are, Liam Neeson, that is disgusting," wrote @HannahAlOthman.
"Would Liam Neeson have that same energy if the attacker was white?" asked @reecestweetz.
@NeferKira said Neeson still doesn't get it: "He still doesn't realise what he was doing was racist lmao he just thinks revenge isn't worth it. He still thinks killing any black person would be revenge for a specific black man raping his friend."
A few commenters tried to look at the story in a wider context.
@elenimacx urged other Twitter commenters to "read full Liam Neeson interview not just headline".
"This is what white, toxic masculinity looks like," wrote @Gaohmee. "I am extremely wary of men who are more outraged about the pain of a rape survivor than the victim themselves, especially when reverting to violence. I'm glad Neeson sees his mistake at least."
"That Liam Neeson interview is just so saddening (and yes, still racist)," @AyoCaesar chimed in. "It reinforces the idea that people of colour, and especially black men, are collectively responsible for the misdeeds of one. And that when a woman is sexually violated, it's a man who is left truly wounded."
@aliciaadejobi spoke for a number of disappointed fans when she wrote: "Never thought I'd have to cancel Liam Neeson but... here goes. How he ever thought he could say this without consequence is mind-boggling."