Attenborough, who was close to his 91st birthday, was also known for his acting roles in Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” and other films. In fact, he started out his career as an actor in movies such as “Brighton Rock” and “The Great Escape” before turning to directing. He went on to win two Academy Awards for “Gandhi” in 1982.
Attenborough was the brother of noted broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough.
According to The New York Times, Attenborough decided to be an actor after watching Charlie Chaplin in “The Gold Rush” in 1935. “I saw people laughing and crying into their handkerchiefs,” he once said, “and on the train back to Leicester, I said to myself, ‘I want to do that, too.'”
While still a drama student, Attenborough made his film debut in a small role in Noel Coward’s “In Which We Serve.” On stage, he appeared in the original cast of the West End production of Agatha Christie’s long-running mystery, “The Mousetrap.”
He also appeared in Satyajit Ray’s “The Chess Players”; his last acting role for many years was in Otto Preminger’s “The Human Factor” in 1979. He then went on to produce and direct films.
Attenborough made his directorial debut in 1969 with “Oh! What a Lovely War” (which featured John Lennon, Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, John Gielgud and Vanessa Redgrave) and went on to direct 11 more films including “A Bridge Too Far,” “A Chorus Line,” “Cry Freedom,” “Chaplin” and “Shadowlands.” Under his direction, Denzel Washington, Robert Downey Jr. and Debra Winger received Academy Award nominations, respectively, for their roles in “Cry Freedom” and “Chaplin” and “Shadowlands.”
But Attenborough reached the pinnacle of his career with “Gandhi,” the 1982 film about the life of Mohandas Gandhi, which won eight Academy Awards, including Best Director, Best Picture and Best Actor for Ben Kingsley.
Attenborough returned to acting later in his career with memorable roles in Kenneth Branagh’s “Hamlet,” the Steven Spielberg blockbuster “Jurassic Park” and its 1997 sequel, as well as the 1994 version of “Miracle on 34th Street,” in which he played Santa.
At various times, he served as chairman of the British Film Institute, Channel Four Television, Capital Radio and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) and president of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Throughout his career, he won won four BAFTA Awards and three Golden Globes
BAFTA tweeted: “We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of esteemed filmmaker and former BAFTA President Lord Attenborough.”
Directors Guild of America President Paris Barclay made the following statement upon learning of the passing of Lord Richard Attenborough:
“Lord Richard’s immense contribution to the film industry has few parallels. As a director, actor and producer, he dedicated his lifetime to the arts, entertaining us from both behind and in front of the camera. As a director he took on passion projects, many of which were biographical, highlighting individuals who lived extraordinary lives, dedicated to a particular passion – much like Richard himself. A winner of the 1982 DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film for the biographical Gandhi, Richard was a true master filmmaker, embodying the alchemy necessary to turn film into art. He will be greatly missed.”
Actress Mia Farrow tweeted: “Richard Attenborough was the kindest man I have ever had the privilege of working with. A Prince. RIP ‘Pa’ – and thank you.”