We regret to inform you that Lord Richard Attenborough, whose career as an actor and then filmmaker spanned nearly seventy years, has passed away at 90, just five days short of his birthday on August 29th. Attenborough died earlier today in west London, according to his son. The two-time Oscar-winner Attenborough had continuously struggled with health problems since he suffered a stroke in 2008; last year, he moved into a nursing home, in order to be with his wife.
Born Richard Samuel Attenborough on August 29th, 1923 in Cambridge, England, Mr. Attenborough enlisted in the Royal Air Force during WWII; he ended up acting in such wartime propaganda films as Noël Coward’s In Which We Serve (1942) and John Boulting’s Journey Together (1943), where Attenborough appeared opposite Edward G. Robinson. He continue to act in several notable films over the years thereafter (see: Brighton Rock, The League of Gentlemen, etc., etc.), but it wasn’t until 1969 that Attenborough directed his first feature, in the shape of the WWI musical film Oh! What a Lovely War.
Attenborough continued to act until Otto Preminger’s drama/thriller The Human Factor in 1979, at which point he went on a temporary hiatus from appearing onscreen. Over the decades proceeding then, however, Attenborough earned much acclaim for his work on both the stage (which included a role in the London’s West End production of The Mousetrap in 1952) as well as for his movie roles. He picked up a BAFTA for his performances in Guns at Batasi and Seance on a Wet Afternoon in 1964 (a year after he famously appeared in The Great Escape), before he earned Golden Globes back-to-back for his work in The Sand Pebbles (1966) and Doctor Dolittle (1967).
During the 1970s, Attenborough continued to act, but also directed the films Young Winston, A Bridge Too Far and Magic. Then, in 1982, Attenborough helmed the biopic Gandhi, which earned him Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture. The film about the non-violent leader of India’s fight for independence took home six additional Academy Awards, including one for Ben Kingsley’s lead performance. Kingsley issued the following statement, in response to Attenborough’s passing.
“Richard Attenborough trusted me with the crucial and central task of bringing to life a dream it took him twenty years to bring to fruition. When he gave me the part of Gandhi, it was with great grace and joy. He placed in me an absolute trust and in turn, I placed an absolute trust in him and grew to love him. I, along with millions of others whom he touched through his life and work, will miss him dearly.”
Attenborough continued to direct over the decade that followed, as he delivered such prestigious titles as the Oscar-nominated musical A Chorus Line in 1985, the Oscar-nominated South Africa historical drama Cry Freedom in 1987, and then the Oscar-nominated (notice a pattern?) Charlie Chaplin biopic Chaplin in 1992. The latter features a young Robert Downey Jr. in his first Academy Award-nominated role, as the eponymous silent film comedy legend.
In 1993, Attenborough returned to the big screen at last in Steven Spielberg’s iconic blockbuster Jurassic Park, where he played the (tragic) visionary John Hammond. For many members of the generation that grew up watching the film, Attenborough’s eccentric, yet dignified and vulnerable turn as Mr. Hammond was their introduction to the man; for others, it was the latest fine work of artistic expression by Attenborough. As Spielberg put it in his own statement on the actor/filmmaker’s passing:
“Dickie Attenborough was passionate about everything in his life – family, friends, country and career. He made a gift to the world with his emotional epic ‘Gandhi’ and he was the perfect ringmaster to bring the dinosaurs back to life as John Hammond in ‘Jurassic Park.’ He was a dear friend and I am standing in an endless line of those who completely adored him.”
Over the twenty years that followed Jurassic Park‘s initial release, Attenborough continue to do strong work on both sides of the camera. Directing-wise, Attenborough pressed on with the task of delivering prestigious cinema based on the lives of actual people – with the Oscar-nominated C.S. Lewis memoir Shadowlands in 1993, followed by the Ernest Hemingway drama In Love and War in 1996, the Grey Owl biopic in 1999, and finally the historical fiction drama Closing the Ring in 2007.
Acting-wise, Attenborough’s noteworthy roles in the ’90s and ’00s include his turn as Kris Kringle in the Miracle on 34th Street remake in 1994, followed by his turns in Hamlet (1996), his reprisal as John Hammond in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and his performance in Elizabeth (1998), among others.
All of us here at Screen Rant wish to express our most sincere condolences to Lord Attenborough’s family, friends, and fans, in this difficult time. The world has lost not just one of its great filmmakers, but also a true humanitarian artist.
R.I.P: Richard Samuel Attenborough: August 29th, 1923 – August 24th, 2014