HOLLYWOOD director Steven Spielberg yesterday led tributes to Richard Attenborough, the Oscar-winning film-maker who for more than half a century stood as a cornerstone of the British film industry.
One of a host of figures to reflect on the life and career of the director and actor, who died on Sunday aged 90, Spielberg described him as “an incredibly kind, generous and magnificently warm man” who was passionate about everything in life.
Bafta said its former president was a “titan of British cinema” who set an example of “industry, skill and compassion”.
Jurassic Park director Spielberg, who cast Lord Attenborough to be “the perfect ringmaster to bring the dinosaurs back to life” in the films, said he was just one person in a long line of fans of “Dickie”.
In tribute, he said: “Dickie Attenborough was passionate about everything in his life – family, friends, country and career. He made a gift to the world with his emotional epic Gandhi.”
Sir Ben Kingsley, who played the lead role in Lord Attenborough’s multiple Oscar-winning 1982 feature, Gandhi, said: “He placed in me an absolute trust and in turn I placed an absolute trust in him and grew to love him. I along with millions of others whom he touched through his life and work will miss him dearly.”
Lord Puttnam, the UK ambassador of Unicef, the children’s charity for which Lord Attenborough acted as a goodwill ambassador, said: “Richard was an incredibly kind, generous and magnificently warm man whose strong social conscience was borne out in everything he did.”
Actors including Mia Farrow, Sir Roger Moore and Samantha Bond were also quick to praise the film legend.
Farrow tweeted: “Richard Attenborough was the kindest man I have ever had the privilege of working with. A Prince. RIP ‘Pa’ – and thank you.”
Sir Roger added: “Greatly saddened to hear the great Richard Attenborough has left us. Such a wonderful and talented man.”
Bond described him as a “great actor, great director –funny, flirtatious, intelligent, a true gentleman”.
Prime Minister David Cameron also paid tribute, stating: “His acting in Brighton Rock was brilliant, his directing of Gandhi was stunning – Richard Attenborough was one of the greats of cinema.”
Former prime minister Gordon Brown said he was “a great humanitarian whose progressive instincts led him to fight injustice wherever he saw it”.
He added: “He will be especially remembered for his decades of work standing up to the evil of apartheid, a campaign that made him a great friend of Nelson Mandela.”
Lord Attenborough along with his brother, TV naturalist David, was brought up in Leicester. Their father, a lifelong Labour supporter was principal of University College, Leicester.
He made his film debut in 1942 in Noel Coward’s In Which We Serve. His most famous role was as the murdering hoodlum in Brighton Rock five years later.
He was knighted in 1976 and soon went into directing. His greatest achievement was Gandhi, which won eight Oscars.
The film-maker had been frail for some time, having moved into a nursing home to be with his wife of nearly 70 years, actress Sheila Sim, last year.
The couple had a son, Michael who is a theatre director, and two daughters, actress Charlotte, and Jane, who died tragically in the Asian tsunami in 2004.
Richard Attenborough: in his own words
On modern-day heroes
“If someone does something in an entertainment/pop ambience, that person becomes someone who has an impact on the conduct and attitude of a huge number of people who peripherally come in contact with them.
“I’m simply saying that heroes are people whose activities, whose attitudes and whose judgment you just think, wow. That’s good, that’s right, that’s real.”
On the death of daughter Jane in the south-Asian tsunami
“I can talk to people about Jane now, although sometimes I can’t get the words out. I can also see her. I can feel her touch. I can hear her coming into a room.
“She comes in laughing or excited or determined, but always full of commitment. That was the very essence of Jane – commitment. And music.”
On regrets of putting work ahead of family
“I adore my family, they are my joy. However, I am committed to my work. If on a Saturday morning when I was ostensibly going to be with the children and something arose at Rada or at Unicef or at the orphanage or whatever, I would allow the other pressures to take precedent.
“Now I have a guilt...”
ON why ET was Better than Gandhi
“Without the initial premise of Mahatma Gandhi, the film would be nothing. Therefore it’s a narrative film but it’s a piece of narration rather than a piece of cinema, as such.
“ET depended absolutely on the concept of cinema and I think that Steven Spielberg, who I’m very fond of, is a genius.
“I think ET is a quite extraordinary piece of cinema.”
On why he was never a leading man
“Well, I’m 4ft 2in, and not exactly a matinee idol.”
On making movies until the day he died
“On my last day of shooting, I’d be happy to say: ‘Cut, it’s a wrap’ and fall off the twig.”