Actor-Director Richard Attenborough Has Died
08/24/2014 AT 05:55 PM EDT
The actor's son, Michael Attenborough, told the BBC that his father died Sunday. He had been in poor health for some time.
Prime Minister David Cameron issued a statement calling Attenborough "one of the greats of cinema."
"His acting in Brighton Rock was brilliant, his directing of Gandhi was stunning," Cameron said.
Attenborough won an Academy Award for Best Director with Gandhi in 1982, only one of many highlights of a distinguished career as actor and director.
With his abundant snow-white hair and beard, Attenborough was one of the most familiar faces on the British arts scene – universally known as "Dickie."
He appeared in many major Hollywood films, directed a series of movies and was known for his extensive work as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF and other humanitarian causes.
As a director, Attenborough made several successful movies, from Oh What a Lovely War! in 1969 to Chaplin and Shadowlands in the 1990s. But his greatest success was Gandhi, a film that was 20 years in the planning and won eight Oscars, including Best Picture.
The generation that was introduced to Attenborough as an avuncular veteran actor in the 1990s – when he played the failed theme park developer in Jurassic Park and Kris Kringle in a remake of Miracle on 34th Street – may not have appreciated his dramatic range.
A small, energetic man with a round face that remained boyish even in old age, he was perfectly cast at the start of his career as the young sailor or airman of British movies during and after World War II.
In his 1942 film debut as a terrified warship's crewman in In Which We Serve, a 19-year-old Attenborough made a small part into one of the most memorable roles in the movie.
In 1947, Attenborough gave one of the best performances of his career as the menacing teenage thug Pinkie in Brighton Rock, the film version of Graham Greene's novel. Attenborough's baby face and air of menace combined to make it one of his most memorable roles.
Attenborough, son of a university principal, was born Aug. 29, 1923, into a family with strong liberal views and a tradition of volunteer work for humanitarian concerns.
One of his younger brothers is naturalist David Attenborough, whose nature documentaries have reached audiences around the world.
Richard Attenborough was a tireless defender of the British film industry. His artistic and humanitarian efforts were rewarded with several international prizes, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Prize in 1983.
He was knighted in 1976, and 17 years later received a life peerage, becoming Baron Attenborough of Richmond upon Thames.
His later years were marked by a horrendous personal tragedy when he lost his daughter Jane and granddaughter in the tsunami that hit Thailand the day after Christmas in 2004.
The heartbroken Attenborough said he was never able to celebrate the Christmas holidays after that.
He had been in frail health since a fall at his house in 2008, and spent his last years in a nursing home with his wife.
He is survived by his wife, their son and a daughter.