Remembering British Film Giant Lord Richard Attenborough

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Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

The acclaimed actor, director, and icon of British film Lord Richard Attenborough passed away over the weekend just days before his 91st birthday. Attenborough was known for iconic work in front of and behind the camera as well as on the stage, which led to him being knighted in 1976. He holds a litany of other honors from a variety of organizations from the Indian government’s highest civilian award to several Academy Awards for his decades-long career.

Attenborough’s career began in the theater. He starred in a production of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, which went on to be the world’s longest running stage production. He attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts after winning a scholarship to the school at age sixteen. There he met his wife — Sheila Sim, also an actress — and he remained a patron of the institution until his death. Through the 1940s and 1950s, Attenborough was a popular fixture in British film. He didn’t break into Hollywood until 1963 with a role in the acclaimed World War II film The Great Escape. Attenborough acted prolifically, and to great acclaim, through the 1960s and 1970s, but stopped taking roles after The Human Factor in 1979 in order to focus on directing.

Attenborough’s most-honored achievement was directing the 1982 biopic Gandhi, a passion project he was forced to finance himself and took him twenty years to finish. Hollywood producers refused to fund a movie about the Indian civil rights leader, but it ended up performing well at the box office as well as winning eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director trophies for Attenborough, as well as Best Actor for Ben Kingsley.

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