Sir Richard Attenborough, acclaimed as an actor of stage and screen before transitioning into an award-winning career as a director, died Sunday. He was 90.
Attenborough had his big break as an actor playing opposite Steve McQueen in 1963’s The Great Escape. He played a British POW attempting to spearhead a jailbreak from a German camp.
Attenborough’s greatest triumph was the 1982 epic film Gandhi, which he fought with studios for twenty years to see produced.
One executive told him that no one would pay to see a film about “a little brown man in a sheet carrying a beanstalk.”
Despite that executive’s good intentions, Gandhi was nominated for eleven Academy Awards. It won eight, including Best Picture; Best Actor for Sir Ben Kingsley in the title role; Best Original Screenplay; and Best Director for Lord Attenborough.
(Also of note: Gandhi still holds the record for the most extras in a film; there are 300,000 people in Gandhi’s funeral scene.)
Doubtless, though, his most well-known and well-loved role for moviegoers of the past generation is that of John Hammond, the eccentric billionaire and developer of a certain dinosaur-themed amusement park.
Among his later roles was that of Santa Claus in a 1994 remake of Miracle on 34th Street.
Attenborough had been in declining health since suffering a stroke and related fall at his home in 2008. That stroke confined him to a wheelchair, though this fact wasn’t revealed until brother David confirmed it in a 2011 interview.
In the same interview, David Attenborough confirmed that his brother was still lucid enough to hold a conversation.
His wife, Shelia Sim, entered a nursing home to receive care for senile dementia in the summer of 2012. Richard followed herinto the same home the following spring.
Attenborough’s death came five days before what would have been his 91st birthday.