Richard Samuel Attenborough, Baron Attenborough, is an English actor, director, producer, and entrepreneur. Attenborough has won two Academy Awards, four BAFTA Awards and three Golden Globes. He is the elder brother of naturalist and wildlife filmmaker Sir David Attenborough.
Attenborough was born in Cambridge, England, the son of Mary (née Clegg), a founding member of the Marriage Guidance Council, and Frederick Levi Attenborough, a scholar and academic administrator who was a don at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and wrote a standard text on Anglo-Saxon law. Attenborough was educated at Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys in Leicester and at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). During the Second World War Attenborough served in the Royal Air Force.
Attenborough's film career began in 1942 as a deserting sailor in In Which We Serve, a role which would help to type-cast him for many years as spivs or cowards in films like London Belongs to Me (1948), Morning Departure (1950), and his breakthrough role as a psychopathic young gangster in the film of Graham Greene's novel Brighton Rock (1947). Attenborough worked prolifically in British films for the next thirty years, and in the 1950s appeared in several successful comedies for John and Roy Boulting, including Private's Progress (1956) and I'm All Right Jack (1959).
Early in his stage career, Attenborough starred in the London West End production of Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, which went on to become one of the world's longest running stage productions. Both he and his wife were among the original cast members of the production, which opened in 1952 and as of 2008 is still running.
In the 1960s, he expanded his range of character roles in films such as Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) and Guns at Batasi (1964), for which he won the BAFTA Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of the Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM). In 1963 he appeared in the ensemble cast of The Great Escape, as Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett ("Big X"), the head of the escape committee. It was his first appearance in a major Hollywood film blockbuster, and his most successful film up to that time.
In 1967 and 1968, he won back-to-back Golden Globe Awards in the category of Best Supporting Actor, the first time for The Sand Pebbles starring Steve McQueen, and the second time for Doctor Dolittle starring Rex Harrison. He would win another Golden Globe for Best Director, for Gandhi, in 1983. Six years prior to Gandhi he played the ruthless General Outram in Indian director Satyajit Ray's period piece The Chess Players. He has never been nominated for an Academy Award in an acting category.
He took no acting roles following his appearance in Otto Preminger's version of The Human Factor in 1979, until his appearance as the eccentric developer John Hammond in Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park in 1993. The following year he starred in the remake of Miracle on 34th Street as Kris Kringle. Since then he has made occasional appearances in supporting roles including the 1998 historical drama Elizabeth as Sir William Cecil.
Producer and director
In the late 1950s, Attenborough formed a production company, Beaver Films, with Bryan Forbes and began to build a profile as a producer on projects including The League of Gentlemen (1959), The Angry Silence (1960) and Whistle Down the Wind (1961), also appearing in the first two of these as an actor.
His feature film directorial debut was the all-star screen version of the hit musical Oh! What a Lovely War (1969), and his acting appearances became more sporadic - the most notable being his portrayal of serial killer John Christie in 10 Rillington Place (1971). He later directed two epic period films: Young Winston (1972), based on the early life of Winston Churchill, and A Bridge Too Far (1977), an all-star account of Operation Market Garden in World War II. He won the 1982 Academy Award for Directing for his historical epic, Gandhi, a project he had been attempting to get made for many years. As the film's producer, he also won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
His most recent films as director and producer include Chaplin (1992) starring Robert Downey, Jr. as Charlie Chaplin and Shadowlands (1993), based on the relationship between C. S. Lewis and Joy Gresham. The star of the latter was Anthony Hopkins, who also appeared in three other films for Attenborough: Young Winston, A Bridge Too Far and the thriller Magic (1978).
Attenborough also directed the screen version of the musical A Chorus Line (1985); and the apartheid drama Cry Freedom based on the life and death in police custody of prominent anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko and the experiences of Donald Woods. He was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Director for both films.
In 1967, he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). He was knighted in 1976 and in 1993 he was made a life peer as Baron Attenborough, of Richmond upon Thames in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames.
On 13 July 2006, Attenborough, along with his brother David, were awarded the titles of Distinguished Honorary Fellows of the University of Leicester "in recognition of a record of continuing distinguished service to the University".
On 20 November 2008, Attenborough was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Drama from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD) in Glasgow.
Lord Attenborough is also listed as an Honorary Fellow of Bangor University for his continued efforts to film making.
Attenborough has been married to English actress Sheila Sim since 1945. Since 1951 he has lived in a house on Richmond Green; his wife became a local JP. They had three children. On December 26 (Boxing Day), 2004 his elder daughter, Jane Holland, as well as her daughter, Lucy, and her mother-in-law, also named Jane, were killed in the tsunami caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.
A memorial service was held on 8 March 2005, and Attenborough read a lesson at the national memorial service on 11 May 2005. His grandson Samuel Holland and granddaughter Alice Holland also read in the service. A commemorative plaque has been placed in the floor of St Mary Magdeline's Parish church in Richmond.
As well as his daughter Jane, Attenborough has two other children, Michael John and Charlotte, an actress. Michael John Attenborough is Creative Director of the Almeida Theatre, London, married to actress Karen Lewis and has two sons. Attenborough has six grandchildren, five grandsons and one granddaughter, Alice (Lucy d. 2004).
Attenborough's father was principal of University College, Leicester, now the city's university. This has resulted in a long association with the university, with Lord Attenborough a patron. The university's Richard Attenborough Centre for Disability and the Arts, which opened in 1997, is named in his honour. His son, Michael Attenborough, is also a director. He has two younger brothers, the world famous naturalist Sir David Attenborough; and John Attenborough, who has made a career in the motor trade.
He has collected Picasso ceramics since the 1950s. More than 100 items went on display at the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery in Leicester in 2007; the exhibition is dedicated to his family members lost in the tsunami.
In 2008 he published in association with his long standing associate, Diana Hawkins, an informal autobiography, Entirely Up to You, Darling.
In August 2008 Attenborough was hospitalised with heart problems, and was fitted with a pacemaker. In December 2008 he suffered a fall at his home and was admitted to St George's Hospital in Tooting, South West London. He went into a coma, but came out of it within a few days. As of 24 March 2009 he remains at St George's Hospital. However it is expected that he will be discharged by the summer in time to film Ironclad, which will be the 74th film of his career.
Attenborough died from illness on 24 August 2014, five days before his ninety-first birthday.