Richard Attenborough

With the recent passing of Sir Richard Attenborough, we take a look at the religious philosophy of the famous actor and director of Gandhi.

Legendary British film actor Sir Richard Attenborough passed away on August 24 at the age of 90. The performer, producer, and director starred in dozens of films and is most well-known for his roles in Jurassic Park, The Great Escape, Flight of the Phoenix, Miracle on 34th Street, and A Bridge Too Far. Attenborough also produced and directed many movies himself, his most acclaimed work being the 1982 biopic Gandhi for which he personally won two Academy Awards.

The critically-acclaimed Gandhi was Attenborough’s passion project. The film featured British actor Ben Kingsley – now famous, but little-known at the time – in the titular role, and Attenborough both produced and directed the biography. Although he won two Academy Awards, the film itself won eight. Criticized by historians for contributing to “myth-making,” the film about the Hindu man was nonetheless a critical and financial success, earning 20 times its $22 million budget. The project finally got off of the ground after 20 years of Attenborough attempting to secure funding. By selling off his possessions and spending “so much money I couldn’t pay the gas bill,” he was eventually able to produce the biopic himself.

While Attenborough was not known as a religious man, he remained agnostic about the possible existence of a higher being. Admitting that he would remain open to the idea of faith, the actor and film-maker was critical of organized religion which he saw as a source of conflict. Attenborough told The Scotsman, “I can’t believe, as Gandhi did, that there’s only one religion, one form of practising your credo. I am at a loss. I will go on trying because I would be arrogantly stupid not to, but having to adhere to custom and conviction in terms of practice I find destructive rather than constructive. It seems to me that organised, formal religions have done a fair amount of damage in terms of our chances of living without confrontation.”

Attenborough continued making films until 2007, and his career spanned 65 years. He is survived by his wife of 63 years, their two children, and six grand-children. In 2004, his daughter Jane was killed in the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster. When asked if he still believed part of his daughter was with him, the actor replied, “I don’t feel she has gone forever, but in the same breath she is not here and I don’t quite know why she is not here. … I can’t believe we are here for nothing, that there isn’t something.

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