Baby-faced as a young actor and whitely bearded in his older age, Richard Attenborough — warmly known as “Dickie Darling” — has passed away. The older brother of nature documentary filmmaker, David Attenborough, Richard Attenborough had spent over six decades in British moviemaking as both an actor and director.
The actor’s son, Michael Attenborough told the BBC that his father died Sunday. He had been in poor health for some time.
“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.”
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 World War II film In Which We Serve. He served, too, in the Royal Air Force, and afterward became one of the best-known actors of post-War Britain.
In his 60-plus years of acting, he’s been a part of Brighton Rock, The Great Escape, Doctor Dolittle, 10 Rillington Place, Jurassic Park (as the failed theme park developer) and the 1994 remake of Miracle on 34th Street. (Naturally, he played Kris Kringle.)
He transitioned into directing beginning with 1969’s World War I musical comedy Oh! What a Lovely War and has directed 12 films altogether.
Attenborough was also a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF and was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Prize in 1983.
He was knighted in 1976, and 17 years later received a life peerage, becoming Baron Attenborough of Richmond upon Thames.
The son of a university principal, Attenborough was born Aug. 29, 1923, into a family with strong liberal views and a tradition of volunteer work for humanitarian concerns.
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 told The Associated Press 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 heart-broken Attenborough said he was never able to celebrate the Christmas holidays after that.
Attenborough had been in frail health since a fall at his house in 2008, and spent his last years in a nursing home with his wife.
He is survived by his wife, their son and a daughter.