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3:14 am
Mon August 25, 2014

Legendary Actor Lord Richard Attenborough Dies At 90

Originally published on Mon August 25, 2014 9:53 am

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Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Richard Attenborough has died at the age of 90. He was Lord Attenborough, but beyond any title was the power of his film work, on-screen and behind the camera as an Oscar-winning director. NPR's Ari Shapiro is in London.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Richard Attenborough's career in Hollywood spanned generations. Younger audiences knew him as the creator of a theme park filled with dinosaurs.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JURASSIC PARK")

RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH: (As John Hammond) Welcome to Jurassic Park.

SHAPIRO: Thirty years earlier, he starred in the war classic "The Great Escape," playing a British soldier, here trying to pass himself off as German.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE GREAT ESCAPE")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (As character) You're English? England.

ATTENBOROUGH: (As Roger Bartlett) (German spoken).

SHAPIRO: Stretching even further back, audiences knew him as Pinkie, the teenage psychopath in the 1947 film "Brighton Rock."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BRIGHTON ROCK")

ATTENBOROUGH: These banisters have needed mending for a long while. It's a good thing we have a nice, respectable lawyer like you on the spot, who saw the accident.

SHAPIRO: Despite all the accolades for his on-screen performances, Attenborough was even more successful behind the camera.

(SOUNDBITE OF 1983 OSCAR AWARD CEREMONY)

BILLY WILDER: The winner is Richard Attenborough, for "Ghandi."

SHAPIRO: In 1983, Richard Attenborough won two Oscars - best director and best picture - for the movie Gandhi. It took him 20 years to make this film about the man who transformed India through non-violent protest.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC FROM FILM, "GHANDI")

SHAPIRO: The funeral scene used more than 300,000 extras. The Guinness Book of World Records says, it's the most of any movie scene in history. Attenborough absorbed the film's themes of justice during his childhood. In 2009, he told interviewers from Scotland's STV that his parents took in two Jewish refugees during World War II - German girls close to his own age.

(SOUNDBITE OF STV INTERVIEW)

ATTENBOROUGH: And Mama said, you know what this means, darling. The holidays will be what we can manage for a family of seven, not family of five. And you won't get the same presents and so on and so on. And the most important thing is that we will have to share our love. We adore you boys, but these two girls, who we don't know really, have nothing.

SHAPIRO: Ultimately, the parents gave their children the choice of whether to let the girls stay or not. That choice provided the title of his autobiography, "Entirely Up To You, Darling." In that book, he also revealed his close friendship with Princess Diana.

(SOUNDBITE OF STV INTERVIEW)

ATTENBOROUGH: Prince Charles wrote to me, and asked me - he'd just got married - and asked me if I would coach his new young wife with public speaking because she was very nervous and very frightened.

SHAPIRO: Attenborough said in the interview that he thought the best film he ever directed was a movie called "Shadowlands." It was a biopic about the author C.S. Lewis, starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SHADOWLANDS")

DEBRA WINGER: (As Joy Gresham) Thank you, my love.

ANTHONY HOPKINS: (As Jack Lewis) What for?

WINGER: (As Joy Gresham) For all of it.

SHAPIRO: Juxtapose the quiet intimacy of that moment against the epic magnitude of the "Gandhi" funeral scene, and you get a sense of Attenborough's range.

(SOUNDBITE OF BBC INTERVIEW)

CHRIS HEWITT: He was extraordinarily versatile.

SHAPIRO: Chris Hewitt of the British magazine Empire spoke to BBC after news of Attenborough's death broke last night. Hewitt said, Attenborough was equally beloved on both sides of the Atlantic.

(SOUNDBITE OF BBC INTERVIEW)

HEWITT: He was just renowned for being one of the nicest guys around, as well. He was an extraordinarily generous man. You know, his nickname was Dickie. Everyone called him Dickie. Even if you'd never met him, you called him Dickie.

SHAPIRO: Lord Richard Attenborough spent the last several years in a nursing home. He died yesterday at the age of 90. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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