Lord Richard Attenborough died Sunday, five days short of his 91st birthday, and you probably know more of his movies than you think. Attenborough was already pretty well known in Britain when he gained an American audience in1963 playing a British squadron leader in the great World War II adventure The Great Escape. Thirty years later he gained a new audience as a dinosaur-cloning executive in Jurassic Park.
Attenborough's biggest triumph, though, was probably Gandhi, the 1982 Oscar-winning biopic of Indian nonviolent revolutionary Mohandas K. Gandhi. It was a passion project that he financed himself, selling art and mortgaging his home when nobody in Hollywood would touch the project. But along with winning critical acclaim, making a star of Ben Kingsley, and introducing a new generation to Gandhi and the idea of passive resistance, Gandhi also made Attenborough a lot of money.
Some of Attenborough's other notable directing credits include Chaplin (1992), Cry Freedom (1987), Shadowlands (1993), and A Chorus Line (1985). He was famously genial on his movie sets, calling lead actors and bit players alike "darling" — he kept up that habit off the set, too, once calling Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher "darling."
Attenborough was born in 1923 in Cambridge, England. He leaves behind his wife, Sheila Sim, whom he married in 1945, a son and a daughter, and two brothers, including naturalist Sir David Attenborough. Another daughter, Jane, was killed in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, along with her daughter, Lucy.