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September 23, 2017

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Richard Attenborough passes at age 90

LONDON--Taking turns as an actor, producer and director and picking up a mantlepiece full of awards along the way, Richard Attenborough, 90, was a much-loved and long admired fixture in the British film industry.

From his first acting role in 1942 war movie "In Which We Serve," the acclaimed "Brighton Rock," through to the multiple Oscar-winning "Gandhi," which he directed, and Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park," he dominated the British film industry during a long and hugely successful career.

A member of the House of Lords, he was also tireless in his charity work, including as a goodwill ambassador to UNICEF, was president of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and life president of Chelsea soccer club.

A man with strong family ties, he married his wife Sheila at 21, and lived in the same house for five decades in south-west London, an area that was also home to his younger brother David, the famous naturalist and wildlife presenter.

But tragedy struck in 2004 when one of Attenborough's three children, Jane Holland, and her daughter Lucy died in the Asian Boxing Day tsunami. Famously open with his emotions, he said he never quite got over their deaths.

Born in Cambridge in August 1923, he made his big screen debut in 1942 with "In Which we Serve," the Noel Coward-David Lean tribute to the Royal Navy at war, and appeared in more than 60 films over the next 50 years.

The clean-cut young Attenborough became a regular feature in the cheerful, stiff-upper-lip cinema of the postwar years, but he achieved greater distinction in murkier roles, particularly as the villain Pinkie in the 1947 adaptation of Graham Greene's novel "Brighton Rock."

By the 1960s he had come to the attention of Hollywood and obtained regular character roles in such as films as John Sturges's war epic "The Great Escape" and Robert Aldrich's "Flight of the Phoenix."

He had also acquired a taste for production, forming his own company with Bryan Forbes to make "The Angry Silence" and other social realist films such as Forbes' own "The L-Shaped Room."

His Biggest Success

In 1962 Attenborough was approached by an associate of the family of Mahatma Gandhi about making a film about the life of the founder of independent India. Although he had no familiarity with the subject, or with India, he met Pandit Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi the following year.

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