Lord Attenborough, one of the giants of British cinema, died on Sunday, August 24, five days before his 91st birthday. With a career spanning six decades, Richard Attenborough has been hailed as one of the world’s most celebrated filmmakers.
Born in Cambridge in 1923, he started acting at the age of just 12, making his professional stage debut aged 18. Beginning his career as an actor, his breakthrough came in 1947 after being hailed for his chilling portrayal of teenage hoodlum and murderer Pinkie in Brighton Rock.
In 1963, he appeared in the ensemble cast of World War Two thriller The Great Escape alongside Steve McQueen and James Garner, his first appearance in a major Hollywood film blockbuster and his most successful film thus far. In 1971 he won great acclaim for his role in 10 Rillington Place, starring alongside John Hurt as serial killer John Christie. To younger generations, Attenborough his best known for his role of billionaire creator John Hammond in dinosaur blockbuster Jurassic Park and the sequel, Jurassic Park:The Lost World, a movie franchise that went on to gross more than $1 billion.
Attenborough won the greatest acclaim for his work as a director, winning eight Oscars for his 1982 historical epic Gandhi, a project that took nearly twenty years to secure funding. With the Ben Kingsley in the title role, the film traces Mohandas K. Gandhi’s life as an Indian lawyer who forsakes his job and possessions and takes up a walking staff to lead his oppressed country’s fight for independence from Britain through a campaign of passive resistance, ending in his assassination. The funeral scene at the River Ganges still holds the Guinness World Record for the most extras ever used in a film scene – over 300,000 people.
Five years later, after a hiatus from directing, Mr. Attenborough returned with what was largely considered to be his biggest flop: Chaplin a long, sprawling biography of the silent film star. Despite an Oscar-nominated performance by Robert Downey Jr. in the title role, the film did poorly at the box office.
Jurassic Park director Steven Spielberg said “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”
He was appointed a CBE in 1967 and knighted just nine years later in 1976. He was made a life peer in 1993, and in 2012 Pinewood Studios paid tribute to his body of work by naming a purpose-built film and television stage after him.
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1. Richard Attenborough on the set of The Last Grenade, 1969