Tributes have poured in for esteemed actor and Oscar-winning director Richard Attenborough, who dominated the British film business for more than half a century.
Lord Attenborough, who moved to a care home in 2008, died at lunchtime yesterday aged 90, his son Michael told the BBC.
BAFTA described its former president as a “titan of British cinema” who set an example of “industry, skill and compassion” that business would do well to live up to.
Born in Cambridge in 1923, he championed the British film industry through its triumphs and trials, enjoying success as one of Britain’s leading actors before becoming a celebrated director and prolific movie-maker.
In a statement the film academy added: “We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of esteemed filmmaker and former BAFTA President, Lord Attenborough Kt, CBE, whose passionate support of BAFTA for more than 50 years was integral to who we are today. He will be sorely missed.
“A titan of British cinema, to say he embodied its finest qualities is to have it backwards. British film would do well to live up to the example of industry, skill and compassion set by Richard, Lord Attenborough.”
His career highlights included appearing in 1993 blockbuster Jurassic Park and clinching eight Oscars for 1982 film Gandhi, including best film and best director.
As an actor he was respected enough for top directors Satyajit Ray and Steven Spielberg to lure him out of self-imposed retirement to appear respectively in The Chess Players and Jurassic Park.
He has been praised by fellow actors and politicians alike, as well as by his beloved Chelsea Football club.
Prime Minister David Cameron was among the first to pay tribute to Lord Attenborough in a statement which read: “His acting in Brighton Rock was brilliant, his directing of Gandhi was stunning – Richard Attenborough was one of the greats of cinema.”
A Labour Party spokesman recognised the “enormous contribution” he made to the country, which included his passion for social justice.
He said: “Lord Attenborough made an enormous contribution to our country and to the film industry both as an actor and a director. His films will be loved for generations to come.
“He believed passionately in social justice and the Labour Party and was a vocal campaigner against apartheid.
“He will be sadly missed. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.”
Chelsea Football Club said it was “deeply saddened” to learn of the death of the actor and would “always be grateful” that the club was close to his heart.
A statement said: “His personality was woven into the tapestry of the club over seven decades. He was a consistent force for good at the club, even in dark times.
“Lord A was a thoroughly lovely and talented man who used his fame and influence for the good of the many causes close to his heart. We will always be grateful that our football club was one of them.
“He will be greatly missed, and the thoughts of everyone at Chelsea FC are with his family and friends at this sad time.”
Lord Attenborough married the actress Sheila Sim when he was 21. His son Michael was born in 1949, followed by two daughters, Jane and Charlotte.
Tragedy struck on Boxing Day 2004 when his elder daughter Jane Holland, and her daughter, Lucy, and her mother-in-law, also named Jane, were killed in the south-Asian tsunami.
Michael is a theatre director and former artistic director of the Almeida Theatre in Islington, north London, and Charlotte is an actress.
Lord Attenborough struck up a friendship with Diana, Princess of Wales, after the Prince of Wales asked him to help her write speeches.
He was the older brother of TV wildlife presenter Sir David Attenborough.
Actors including Mia Farrow, Sir Roger Moore and Samantha Bond were quick to praise the supremely-talented film legend, a star of both in front and behind the camera.
Actress 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.”
Lord Attenborough was also responsible for launching the children’s charity Help A London Child.
Lord Attenborough was a former president of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, having become involved in the charity after meeting young boys who were living with the condition.
Chief executive Robert Meadowcroft said he had been “the most extraordinary president a charity could ever wish to have”.
He said: “He had the wonderful gift of empathy and offered unwavering support for the numerous families he met in the fight against muscle-wasting conditions.
“He will be sorely missed and fondly remembered by the many people whose lives he touched, for a long time to come.”