Tributes flow for Richard Attenborough, actor and director

Richard Attenborough, the British actor and Oscar-winning director of Gandhi, known for his warmth and work for humanitarian causes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 August, 2014, 8:59pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 August, 2014, 1:14pm


Richard Attenborough was a lord, the Oscar-winning director of Gandhi and an unflagging pillar to British cinema. But Attenborough, who died on Sunday at 90, was best known as Dickie.

Baby-faced as a young actor and white-bearded in his old age, Attenborough presided over six decades of British moviemaking as both an actor and filmmaker with a genial warmth that endeared him to his fans and fellow actors.

"I have no great interest in being remembered as a great creative filmmaker," he told The New York Times when Gandhi was released in 1982.

"I want to be remembered as a storyteller."

The actor's son, Michael Attenborough, told the BBC that his father had been in poor health for some time.

Prime Minister David Cameron issued a statement calling Attenborough "one of the greats of cinema: His acting in Brighton Rock was brilliant, his directing of Gandhi was stunning".

Ben Kingsley, who shot to stardom for his performance as Mahatma Gandhi, recalled Attenborough's passionate 20-year struggle to bring Gandhi's story to the big screen. The film won eight Oscars, including best picture (over E.T.), best director for Attenborough and best actor for Kingsley.

"He placed in me an absolute trust and in turn I placed an absolute trust in him and grew to love him," said Kingsley. "I along with millions of others whom he touched through his life and work will miss him dearly."

A product of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Attenborough made his screen debut in the patriotic 1942 film In Which We Serve. He served, too, in the Royal Air Force, and afterwards became one of the best-known actors of post-war Britain.

In his 60-plus years of acting, he amassed some 70 credits, including Brighton Rock, The Great Escape, Doctor Dolittle, 10 Rillington Place and Jurassic Park.

He went into directing beginning with 1969's first-world-war musical comedy Oh! What a Lovely War. He directed 12 films altogether, including A Bridge Too Far, A Chorus Line, Cry Freedom, Chaplin and Shadowlands.

Attenborough was a constant advocate for the British film industry and for humanitarian causes, including his extensive work as a goodwill ambassador for UN children's fund Unicef. He was awarded the Martin Luther King Jnr Peace Prize in 1983.

He was knighted in 1976, and 17 years later received a peerage.

"Dickie Attenborough was passionate about everything in his life - family, friends, country and career," said Steven Spielberg, director of Jurassic Park. "He was a dear friend and I am standing in an endless line of those who completely adored him."

The son of a university principal, Attenborough was born August 29, 1923 into a family with strong liberal views and a tradition of volunteer work. One of his younger brothers is naturalist David Attenborough.

As a director, Attenborough was often thought to be at his best when trying to coax the finest work from actors.

Gandhi made a star of its little-known leading man, Kingsley, and Denzel Washington won an Oscar nomination for 1987's Cry Freedom.

"The people I want to reach are those who have never even considered the whole question of South Africa. In order to do that, you have to make a film that is fundamentally entertaining. I'm in the entertainment business; I'm not a politician," he said at the time.

"I make movies for millions of people all over the world."

Attenborough's later years were marked by a personal tragedy when he lost his daughter Jane and granddaughter in the tsunami that hit Thailand the day after Christmas in 2004. The heartbroken Attenborough said he was never able to celebrate Christmas after that.

He is survived by his wife, their son and a daughter.

Associated Press