Born on 29 August 1923 in Cambridge, the eldest of three sons of Mary Attenborough (née Clegg), a founding member of the Marriage Guidance Council, and Frederick Levi Attenborough, a scholar and academic administrator who was a fellow at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and wrote a standard text on Anglo-Saxon law.
In September 1939, the Attenboroughs took in two German Jewish refugee girls, Helga and Irene Bejach (aged 9 and 11 respectively), who lived with them in College House and were adopted by the family after the war when it was discovered that their parents had been killed.
The sisters moved to America in the 1950s and lived with an uncle, where they married and took American citizenship; Irene died in 1992 and Helga in 2005.
Early in his stage career, Attenborough starred in the West End production of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, which went on to become the world’s longest running stage production.
Both he and his wife were among the original cast members of the production, which opened in 1952 at the Ambassadors Theatre and as of 2014 is still running at the St Martins Theatre.
In 1967 and 1968, he won back-to-back Golden Globe Awards in the category of Best Supporting Actor, the first time for The Sand Pebbles (1966), starring Steve McQueen, and the second time for Doctor Dolittle (1967), starring Rex Harrison.
He would win another Golden Globe for Best Director, for Gandhi (1982), in 1983. Six years prior to “Gandhi”, he played the ruthless “Gen.
Outram” in Indian director Satyajit Ray’s period piece, The Chess Players (1977). He has never been nominated for an Academy Award in an acting category.
He won the 1982 Academy Award for Best Director and as the film’s producer, the Academy Award for Best Picture for his historical epic Gandhi and another two Golden Globes, this time for Best Director and Best Foreign Film, for the same film in 1983, a project he had been attempting to get made for 18 years.
Attenborough also directed the screen version of the musical A Chorus Line (1985) and the anti-apartheid drama Cry Freedom (1987), based on the life and death of prominent anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko and the experiences of Donald Woods.
After 33 years of dedicated service as President of the Muscular Dystrophy campaign, Attenborough became the charity’s Honorary Life President in 2004.
On 13 July 2006, Attenborough and his brother, David Attenborough, were awarded the titles of Distinguished Honorary Fellows of the University of Leicester “in recognition of a record of continuing distinguished service to the University”.
Lord Attenborough is also listed as an Honorary Fellow of Bangor University for his continued efforts to film making.
In 2012, the charity, which leads the fight against muscle-wasting conditions in the UK, established the Richard Attenborough Fellowship Fund to honour his lifelong commitment to the charity, and to ensure the future of clinical research and training at leading UK neuromuscular centres. Attenborough has been married to English actress Sheila Sim, since 1945.
They had three children. In December 2004, his elder daughter, Jane Holland, as well as her daughter Lucy and her mother-in-law, also named Jane, were killed in the tsunami caused by the Indian Ocean earthquake.
A memorial service was held on 8 March 2005, and Attenborough read a lesson at the national memorial service on 11 May 2005.
His grandson, Samuel Holland, and granddaughter, Alice Holland, also read in the service.