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Richard Attenborough, who died Aug. 24 at age 90, ennobled and dignified everything he touched.

Aside from enhancing the art and science of cinema as a great actor, director and producer, he also left an indelible mark on countless young people as president of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, chancellor of Sussex University and tireless patron of many charities. A profoundly life-enhancing force, he was the British film industry’s greatest champion.

As a true storyteller, he never patronized his audience, but presented a graceful, unadorned truth, free from sentimentality or manipulation–so genuine was his respect for what he passionately felt people deserved from cinema.

He radiated supreme intelligence, compassion and sheer generosity of spirit. These qualities were manifest in every frame of his films, every gesture of his life.

As a director, mentor and comrade, he was a unique gift to any actor who was blessed enough to work with him. For those of us close to him, he was a man in whom we placed an absolute trust and whom we all grew to love.

He was unique, irreplaceable. His passing marks the end of an era.

Kingsley won an Academy Award for his performance as Gandhi under Attenborough’s direction

This appears in the September 08, 2014 issue of TIME.

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