This year’s sad cinema news continues with the death of a man whose career began before my dad was even born, and went through several inspirational iterations before becoming an iconic presence as I was growing up.
Lord Richard Attenborough passed away yesterday (24th August 2014) following a lengthy battle with health that had seen him become resident in a nursing home by his wife’s side, and had left him in a wheelchair following a fall six years ago.
He was an immense figure in the world of film, not just because of his acting and directing achievements (of which I’m sure we all know were many) but because of the tireless work he did to ensure the future of film and arts would be as bright as the many decades in which he produced his great works.
It was noted that at one time or another Attenborough served as director, trustee or chairman of 30 different organisations, key positions being with the British Film Institute, the Tate Gallery and his ongoing work with Film 4 and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences which saw him always ready to act as mentor or supportive figure for a myriad of upcoming talents.
In a huge outpouring of love, the internet and presses have overflowed with messages of love and condolence from the world’s best and brightest; perhaps most poignantly from Steven Spielberg (who directed him in Jurassic Park) and Sir Ben Kingsley, who gave a career defining performance in Attenborough’s epic biopic ‘Ghandi’.
Spielberg said “He made a gift to the world with his emotional epic Gandhi and he was the perfect ringmaster to bring the dinosaurs back to life as John Hammond in Jurassic Park.
“He was a dear friend and I am standing in an endless line of those who completely adored him.”
Kingsley stated “When he gave me the part of Gandhi it was with great grace and joy. He placed in me an absolute trust and in turn I placed an absolute trust in him and grew to love him.”
On a personal note, it was as Richard Hammond, but more wondrously as Santa Clause himself, Kris Kringle that Attenborough struck a chord with me. The ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ remake is often maligned as being schmaltzy and hokey, but to me it represents what Christmas really should be. And whilst I agree that Mara Wilson’s performance as the little know-it-all Susan Walker is amongst the most irritating child acting displays in history, Attenborough’s Santa is a pitch perfect embodiment of the figurehead of modern day Christmas. The entire plot revolves around the plausibility of Santa’s existence, and by the end, thanks to Attenborough, I do.
As Kris Kringle so beautifully states – “I’m not just a whimsical figure who wears a charming suit and affects a jolly demeanour you know. I’m a symbol. I’m a symbol of the human ability to be able to suppress the selfish and hateful tendencies that rule the major part of our lives.”
Now that this giant of the silver screen is gone, I can’t think of a more apt way to describe a man who brought joy and inspiration to so many people.