Richard Attenborough, a baby-faced actor whose growing annoyance at playing "psychopaths and little squirts" led him to become a filmmaker, and who won Academy Awards as the director and producer of Gandhi, died Sunday in London. He was 90.
His family announced the death but did not give a cause.
Mr. Attenborough, who was knighted for his film work years before he completed Gandhi in 1982, had long been considered one of the most versatile and compelling of British character actors.
He was equally skilled at portraying wartime heroes (The Great Escape) and hysterical cowards (In Which We Serve), meek Cockneys (Seance on a Wet Afternoon) and sadistic thugs (Brighton Rock). To a later generation, he was well known as the scientist-entrepreneur who clones dinosaur DNA in Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park.
But it was Gandhi, a project he had spent 20 years pursuing, for which he is chiefly remembered and which remains one of the greatest acts of creative perseverance by a filmmaker.
Mr. Attenborough said that, among other obstacles, he had to overcome skepticism by producers that no one would pay to see an epic-length drama about Mohandas Gandhi, the assassinated nonviolence advocate from India who led his country to independence from English rule. A 1963 Hollywood film, Nine Hours to Rama, starring Horst Buchholz as Gandhi's killer, flopped.
Mr. Attenborough told Newsweek: "They were all terrified of the subject matter, they thought it was totally uncommercial, they wanted a major movie name to play the lead and I was absolutely determined not to have a star in the part. At one point Paramount (Pictures) actually said they'd give me the money if Richard Burton could play Gandhi."
He insisted on giving the title role to Ben Kingsley, an acclaimed Anglo-Indian stage actor with the Royal Shakespeare Company. The performance won Kingsley the Oscar for best actor and launched his film career. Gandhi won eight Oscars and proved a success at the box office. It also won admiration from some critics, including Newsweek's Jack Kroll, who called it "a mixture of high intelligence and immediate emotional impact."
But the majority of reviewers were less kind, describing the film as heavy-handed and self-important with a picture-postcard view of India's teeming misery.
Other movies he directed included Oh! What a Lovely War, Shadowlands, Cry Freedom, Chaplin and A Bridge Too Far.