Richard Attenborough Biography

Richard Attenborough was an actor and film director best known for his Academy Award winning movie, ‘Gandhi’. This biography of Richard Attenborough provides detailed information about his childhood, life, achievements, works & timeline.

Quick Facts

Birthday: August 29, 1923

Nationality: British

Famous: Philanthropists Actors

Died At Age: 90

Sun Sign: Virgo

Born in: Cambridge, England

Famous as: Actor, Director, Producer

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Spouse/Ex-: Sheila Sim

father: Frederick Levi Attenborough

mother: Mary Clegg

siblings: David Attenborough, John Attenborough

Died on: August 24, 2014

City: Cambridge, England

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The man who brought to life on screen the life and teachings of the great leader of the Indian nationalist movement, Mohandas Gandhi, in the movie ‘Gandhi’, Richard Attenborough was an actor, film director and producer. Attenborough as an actor had already made a mark for himself in Hollywood, but when he directed the film, ‘Gandhi’, he became a legend of sorts. He began his acting career as a theatre artist before moving on to work in films. A prolific actor, he worked tirelessly and was one of the most talented British actors ever to grace the silver screen. Born to a scholar and academician father, young Richard chose an unlikely profession for himself. But he definitely imbibed his parents’ dedication towards their respective professions, their idealism and sense of social responsibility. Starting out as an actor, he was initially stereotyped as someone who played cowards. But Attenborough was no coward in real life and lived the life of a highly principled man. After a successful stint as an actor he took to direction and made several successful movies like ‘Gandhi’ and ‘Cry Freedom’, both based on the lives of social activists.

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Childhood & Early Life
  • He served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. There he flew with the Film Unit over Europe and filmed from the rear gunner’s position on several occasions.
  • He began his acting career on stage before moving on to Hollywood. His first film appearance was in 1942 though in an uncredited role.
  • His breakthrough role came in 1947 when he played Pinkie Brown in the film noir, ‘Brighton Rock’ based on Graham Greene’s novel. His role was much appreciated.
  • The 1950s were a very productive time for Attenborough who had by now become a popular actor. Over this decade he appeared in several comedies like ‘Private’s Progress’ (1956) and ‘I’m All Right Jack’ (1959).
  • He got the chance to appear in the ensemble cast of ‘The Great Escape’ in 1963 as Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett. The movie went on to become a major blockbuster.
  • In 1966, he starred along with Steve McQueen and Richard Crenna in the period war film, ‘The Sand Pebbles’ which was the story of a rebellious U.S. Navy Machinist’s Mate.
  • He made his directorial debut with ‘Oh! What a Lovely War!’ in 1969. The film was based on the stage musical of the same name. The film had an ensemble cast including John Mills, Laurence Olivier, and Jack Hawkins.
  • In 1977, he played a role in an Indian film directed by Satyajit Ray. He portrayed the character of General Outram in the film, ‘Shatranj Ke Khilari’ which was based on a short story by Munshi Premchand.
  • Over the 1980s he took acting roles less frequently and focused more on direction. He produced and directed ‘Gandhi’, a biographical film about Indian nationalist movement leader Mohandas Gandhi in 1982. The film was both a huge critical and commercial hit.
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  • He directed the film, ‘Cry Freedom’ in 1987 which was a movie based on the activities of the black social reformer Steve Biko, set in the apartheid era of South Africa. Biko was a man Attenborough greatly respected.
  • He played the role of John Hammond in the 1993 science fiction ‘Jurassic Park’. The movie which became a super hit spawned a sequel, ‘The Lost World: Jurassic Park’ in 1997 in which he reprised the role.
  • He could not act or direct many films over the new millennium due to his advancing age and health problems. He directed his last movie, ‘Closing the Ring’ in 2007.
Major Works
  • The 1982 movie ‘Gandhi’ is considered to be his masterpiece. Based on the life of the Indian nationalist, Mohandas Gandhi, this movie was very close to Attenborough’s heart. The film was very well received by the critics and won numerous awards and nominations.
Awards & Achievements
  • He won two Academy Awards for ‘Gandhi’ at the 55th Academy Awards, 1983, in the categories “Best Director” and “Best Picture”. He also won the BAFTA Awards for “Best Film” and “Best Direction” for the same.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • He married actress Sheila Sim in 1945. The couple was happily married and was blessed with three children. His daughter Jane perished in the Asian tsunami in 2004.
  • He was a dedicated philanthropist who served as the President of the Muscular Dystrophy campaign.
  • He believed that everyone irrespective of race, color, or ethnicity should get the right to education and was actively involved with the United World Colleges movement and the Waterford Kamhlaba United World College.
  • His health had been deteriorating over the last few years due to advancing age. He breathed his last on 24 August, 2014, shortly before his 91st birthday.
  • The British naturalist David Attenborough is the younger brother of this great actor cum director.
  • This famous film director was a big fan of Picasso ceramics and had a vast collection of them.

1. Gandhi (1982)

  (Biography, History, Drama)

2. The Great Escape (1963)

  (History, Thriller, War, Drama, Adventure)

3. A Matter of Life and Death (1946)

  (Drama, Romance, Comedy, Fantasy, War)

4. Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964)

  (Crime, Drama)

5. The Sand Pebbles (1966)

  (Drama, War, Romance, Adventure)

6. Whistle Down the Wind (1961)

  (Drama, Crime)

7. Shatranj Ke Khilari (1977)

  (History, Comedy, Drama)

8. Jurassic Park (1993)

  (Thriller, Sci-Fi, Adventure)


Academy Awards(Oscars)
1983 Best Picture Gandhi (1982)
1983 Best Director Gandhi (1982)
Golden Globe Awards
1983 Best Director - Motion Picture Gandhi (1982)
1968 Best Supporting Actor Doctor Dolittle (1967)
1967 Best Supporting Actor The Sand Pebbles (1966)
BAFTA Awards
1983 Best Direction Gandhi (1982)
1983 Best Film Gandhi (1982)
1965 Best British Actor Guns at Batasi (1964)
1965 Best British Actor Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964)

See the events in life of Richard Attenborough in Chronological Order

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Last Updated
- September 25, 2017
Richard Attenborough

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