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Richard Attenborough dies at 90

LONDON - APRIL 09: Lord Richard Attenborough, seen here at the Galaxy British Book Awards held at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London on April 9, 2008, passed away today of failing health at age 90.
LONDON - APRIL 09: Lord Richard Attenborough, seen here at the Galaxy British Book Awards held at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London on April 9, 2008, passed away today of failing health at age 90.
Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images. Photo taken from www.answers.com

Sad news for movie lovers in Fresno and all over the world today as actor-director Richard Attenborough has passed away today at age 90.

As reported by Gregory Katz of AOL.com, the actor's son, Michael Attenborough told the BBC that his father died today after being in poor health ever since he suffered a fall at his house in 2008, and he spent his last years in a nursing home with his wife, through whom he is survived along with their son and daughter.

Prime Minister David Cameron issued a statement in which he calling Attenborough "one of the greats of cinema. His acting in 'Brighton Rock' was brilliant, his directing of Gandhi was stunning."

Stunning indeed as Attenborough, born August 29, 1923, won an Academy Award for best director for Gandhi in 1982, one of what would be many highlights throughout his distinguished career both as an actor and director. In fact, with his recognizable snow-white hair and beard covering a round, boyish face, Attenborough became one of the most familiar faces in the British arts, where he was often referred to as "Dickie." He has also appeared in several major Hollywood films, directed a series of movies, and became known for his extensive work as a goodwill ambassador for such humanitarian causes as UNICEF.

Some of Attenborough's most successful directorial efforts, in addition to Ghandi, include Oh What a Lovely War from 1969, Chaplin from 1992, and Shadowlands from 1993. Even so, Gandhi would prove to be his greatest success of all, following 20 years in production planning and ultimately winning eight Academy Awards, including best picture and, as previously stated, a best directing award for Attenborough.

This examiner's generation, unfortunately, may be as well exposed to much of Attenborough's ore dramatic work. During the 1990s he took on several recognizable roles in big screen blockbusters, including Kriss Kringle in the remake of Miracle of 34th Street and, perhaps most famously, as failed theme park developer John Hammond in Jurassic Park, which he also reprized for the sequel The Lost World: Jurassic Park.

Attenborough made his film debut in in 1942 as a terrified warship's crewman in In Which We Serve, where the then 19-year-old actor made a small part into one of the most memorable roles in the best picture winning film.

One of Attenborough's best performances came in 1947's Brighton Rock, based on the novel by Graham Greene, in which he played the teenage thug Pinkie; his baby face and air of menace combined to make it one of his most memorable roles.

Despite his youthful appearance nearly costing him the role, he nevertheless landed the lead role in the original cast of The Mousetrap, starring with his wife, actress Sheila Sim, back when the play opened in November 1952 and stayed for 700 performances.

In 1959, Attenborough joined actor Bryan Forbes in film production, debuting in 1960's The Angry Silence, with Attenborough playing a strike-breaking factory worker. The film was one of the first of the gritty, working-class films that helped herald Britain's "new realism" during the 1960s. Forbes and Attenborough went on to produce Whistle Down the Wind in 1961 and The L-Shaped Room in 1962. The last film they produced together, 1964's Seance on a Wet Afternoon, won Attenborough Best Actor awards from the London Film Critics and British Film Academy.

Attenborough also appeared as a prisoner of war in 1963's classic film The Great Escape - which included such incredible ensemble actors as Steve McQueen, James Coburn and Charles Bronson - and won another British Film Academy award for starring in Guns at Batasi. He also won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in in 1967 for The Sand Pebbles.

Attenborough's directing career began in 1969 with Oh What a Lovely War, a lampoon of World War I, which won a Golden Globe award as best English-language foreign film. In 1972, he made Young Winston, which told the story of Winston Churchill's early life. In between, in 1971, he also turned in a chilling performance as 1950s mass murderer John Reginald Christie in 10 Rillington Place.

By the mid-1970s, Attenborough's career had shifted from a professional actor to a director who only occasionally acted, it has even being said that he took acting jobs in order to help finance the movies he wanted to direct.

Unfortunately, Attenborough has seen his share of disappointment in his career however. His 1977 war movie A Bridge Too Far was an expensive disaster, despite its cast of international stars. The following year, the thriller Magic was a failure despite a performance by Anthony Hopkins. His 1985 film adaptation of the long-running stage musical A Chorus Line, also took a critical beating, and 1996's In Love and War also failed to win much critical support.

In has been said by some that Attenborough was at his best when trying to coax the finest work from actors. For example, Gandhi made a star of its then-unknown leading man Ben Kingsley, and Denzel Washington was nominated for a Academy Award for 1987's Cry Freedom. Furthermore, Debra Winger was nominated for an Oscar and Anthony Hopkins gave a terrific performance in Shadowlands, which was a small and subtle film that won Attenborough possibly his greatest praise from film critics.

Attenborough was born the son of a university principal and part of a firmly liberal family with a tradition of volunteer work for humanitarian concerns. In fact, one of his younger brothers is naturalist David Attenborough, whose nature documentaries have successfully reached audiences around the world.

Attenborough himself was a tireless defender of the British film industry, whose artistic and humanitarian efforts were rewarded with several international prizes, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Prize in 1983. In 1976 he was knighted, and in 1993 received a life peerage, becoming Baron Attenborough of Richmond upon Thames.

Sadly, Attenborough's later years were marked by a horrendous personal tragedy when his eldest daughter, Jane Holland, her mother-in-law, also named Jane, and his granddaughter Lucy were all killed in the tsunami that hit Thailand the day after Christmas in 2004. Attenborough, a man who had once played Santa Clause himself, said that Boxing Day of 2004 was "the worst day of his life" and that he was never able to celebrate the Christmas holidays again after that loss.

Attenborough's passing is a great loss to the film and theater industry, on both sides of the Pacific. This examiner would like to give his best regards to his family, friends and fans in these difficult times.

Rest in Peace Richard Attenborough, you will be missed.