Cinema lost a true great yesterday. Actor, producer, and director Richard Attenborough passed away on August 24, less than a week before his 91st birthday.
His career lasted more than six decades—his first credited role was in Noel Coward’s 1942 war drama In Which We Serve—included Academy Awards, stints in front of and behind the camera, and the role we here most fondly remember him for, John Hammond in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park.
As the wide-eyed dreamer slash billionaire, he had an infectious charm and affability that couldn’t help but make you smile. It was damn near impossible not to get excited hearing him talk about using genetics to bring dinosaurs back from extinction and putting them on display, showing them off to the gawking public. To listening to him talk about it, you got so swept up in the magic of it all, of maybe seeing real dinosaurs, that you never paused to think about the myriad ways such an endeavor would inevitably go wrong. But that was his job, to get you psyched on what is, in reality, a foolhardy, recklessly dangerous idea. It’s going to keep killing people next year with Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World.
With that twinkle in his eye and irresistible enthusiasm, it’s easy to see why he was chosen to play Kris Kringle the next year in a remake of Miracle on 34th Street. After all, who better to play Santa Claus? I can’t think of anyone.
The Jurassic Park movies—the 1993 original and the 1997 sequel The Lost World: Jurassic Park, he was, perhaps luckily enough, not involved in Jurassic Park 3—are the only actual science fiction films on his lengthy resume. Though he has more than 70 acting credits to his name, Attenborough won the most acclaim as a director. Even with a variety of movies and genres under his belt, it was dramatic biographies of real people where he produced his most notable films. Cry Freedom explored South African apartheid, Shadowlands told the story of C.S. Lewis, and Chaplin brought Charlie Chaplin back to life in the form of Robert Downey Jr. And then there’s Gandhi, which won him multiple Academy Awards.
Attenborough’s health has been declining steadily since the last 2000s. He suffered a serious fall in 2008 following a stroke, and in March of 2013, it was announced that he would move to a nursing home more suited to care for his specific health needs. He is survived by his wife, actress Sheila Sim, who he married in 1945, and a collection of children, grandchildren, and even a great grandchild.