London, Aug 25 (PTI): Oscar-winning British filmmaker Richard Attenborough, who struggled for 20 years to bring the life of Mahatma Gandhi on-screen in 1982 film ‘Gandhi’, has died. He was 90.
The actor-director’s son, Michael Attenborough told the BBC that his father died at lunchtime yesterday. He had been in poor health for some time and died just four days before his 91st birthday.
Attenborough won an Academy Award for best director for ‘Gandhi’, which went on to sweep the Oscars that year with eight wins including the best picture, best director and best actor trophies.
‘Gandhi’, starring Ben Kingsley as Mahatma, remains one of the biggest highlights of a distinguished and versatile career that spanned six decades, on both sides of the camera.
Paying his tribute, British Prime Minister David Cameron called Attenborough “one of the greats of cinema”.
“His acting in ‘Brighton Rock’ was brilliant, his directing of ‘Gandhi’ was stunning – Richard Attenborough was one of the greats of cinema,” Cameron said.
Remembering the director, Kingsley said Attenborough, also known as ‘Dickie’, placed absolute trust in him to play the role of Gandhi.
“Richard Attenborough trusted me with the crucial and central task of bringing to life a dream it took him 20 years to bring to fruition. When he gave me the part of Gandhi it was with great grace and joy. He placed in me an absolute trust and in turn I placed an absolute trust in him and grew to love him,” Kingsley said.
One of Britain’s leading actors before becoming a highly successful director, Attenborough appeared in films like ‘Brighton Rock’, World War II prisoner of war thriller ‘The Great Escape’, ’10 Rillington Place’, Indian director Satyajit Ray’s period drama ‘The Chess Players’ (Shatranj Ke Khilari) and Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster ‘Jurassic Park’ as a theme park developer.
“Dickie Attenborough was passionate about everything in his life – family, friends, country and career. 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,” Spielberg said.
Along with his naturalist brother David Attenborough, Attenborough was one of Britain’s best-known screen celebrities.
One of the original West End cast for the stage play ‘The Mousetrap’, he started acting at the age of just 12, making his professional stage debut aged 18.
He made his film debut in 1942 as a terrified warship’s crewman in ‘In Which We Serve’.
He also appeared as Kris Kringle in the remake of ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ in 1994 and continued in smaller supporting roles in films such as ‘Elizabeth’ thereafter.
He later ventured into production and direction by forming his company Beaver Films in the late 1950s and beginning in 1960, producing films such as ‘The League of Gentlemen’ and ‘Whistle Down the Wind’. He ultimately produced 13 films, and directed 12. He appeared in 78 films as an actor.
His last film as a director and producer was ‘Closing the Ring’ in 2007, starring Shirley MacLaine, Christopher Plummer and Pete Postlethwaite.
Attenborough had been in failing health in recent years, selling his estate and moving into a nursing home in 2013 to be near his wife, Sheila, whom he married in 1945. He had also been wheelchair-bound since falling down stairs six years ago, reported BBC.
He was appointed a CBE in 1967 and knighted just nine years later in 1976 and was made a life peer in 1993.