Richard Attenborough, Director and Arts Patron, Dead at 90

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Richard Attenborough in "Brighton Rock" (1947)
Richard Attenborough in Brighton Rock (1947). Photo courtesy of Rialto Pictures.
Richard Attenborough in "Doctor Dolittle" (1967)
Richard Attenborough in Doctor Dolittle (1967)
Richard Attenborough in "The Great Escape" (1963)
Richard Attenborough in The Great Escape (1963)
Richard Attenborough during the filming of "Hamlet" (1996)
Richard Attenborough during the filming of Hamlet (1996)
Richard Attenborough in "Jurassic Park" (1993)
Richard Attenborough in Jurassic Park (1993)
Richard Attenborough in Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
Richard Attenborough during the filming of Shadowlands (1993)
Richard Attenborough during the filming of A Bridge Too Far (1977)
Richard Attenborough during the filming of A Bridge Too Far (1977)
Richard Attenborough wins Oscar award for Best Director for Ghandi (1982). Photo courtesy of
Richard Attenborough in Brannigan (1975)

Oscar-winning actor, director, and patron of the arts, Richard Attenborough died on Sunday, his son confirmed to the BBC. The actor was just five days short of his 91st birthday. His health had been in decline following a stroke in 2008, which left him confined to a wheelchair.

Attenborough is best known, perhaps, for his roles in The Great Escape (1963), The Flight of the Pheonix (1965), and later in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1993). Spielberg told the BBC that he was “in an endless line of those who completely adored” Attenborough.

As a director, his most ambitious and critically acclaimed project was the 1982 Gandhi biopic. The film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and went on to win eight of them including Best Picture and Best Director. In order to fund its estimated $22 million budget, Attenborough reportedly mortgaged his house and sold pieces from his extensive art collection.

A love of the visual arts was a constant throughout Attenborough’s life, with his taste mainly ranging to 20th century British artists. His collection began “at a very young and impecunious time when we couldn’t even afford carpets and curtains,” he told the Telegraph in 2009. At the time he was selling 51 works in what he called a “house clearance” sale at Sotheby’s. The sale made £4.6 million, including buyer’s premium, well over double it’s presale estimate. It included pieces by L.S. Lowry, Graham Sutherland, and Christopher Nevinson, among others. He also actively collected Picasso ceramics, an exhibition of which the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery hosted in 2007

Aside from collecting art, Attenborough and his wife founded the Richard and Sheila Attenborough Visual Arts Centre. The Richard Attenborough Center for Disability and the Arts was also opened at University College, Leicester, in 1997.

Among the numerous tributes that have poured in since news of his death broke, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Attenborough had “an absolute passion for human dignity and the equality of all…As a supporter of progressive causes from the anti-apartheid movement to the celebration of India’s independence, he was way ahead of his time.”

Sir Ben Kingsley, who starred in Gandhi, told the BBC, “I along with millions of others whom he touched through his life and work will miss him dearly.”

Attenborough is survived by a son, Michael. His two daughters, Charlotte and Jane, died in the 2004 Tsunami in Asia.

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