Robert Downy Jr., Sir Richard Attenborough

TriStar Pictures, FilmMagic

Robert Downey Jr. was already a Hollywood veteran by the time he played Charlie Chaplin in 1992, but at the same time it could still be considered a breakthrough role for the quirky thesp.

And for that, the Iron Man star will always be thankful to Sir Richard Attenborough, the actor and filmmaker who directed Downey's Oscar-nominated in the biopic Chaplin about the silent-film legend. Attenborough, who won two Oscars for directing and producing Gandhi, died yesterday at 90.

"I'm so grateful I was able to visit Lord Attenborough  recently, to deeply thank him for his contributions to cinema, his lasting impact on all who knew him, and his legacy of philanthropy, wit and kindness," Downey said in a statement released Monday to E! News.

Chaplin, Robert Downey Jr.

Paramount Pictures

"I wouldn't be who I am personally or professionally if not for Dickie, and I am equally indebted to Lady Sheila, who was and remains every bit his equal..."

Attenborough married English actress Sheila Sim, 92, in 1945 and she survives him. They had three children together.

Jane Seymour, who both worked with him and was married briefly to his son Michael Attenborough back in the 1970s, also paid tribute to her fellow Brit.

"The world has lost one of its greatest men," she said in a statement Monday. "Dickie was not only a great actor, director and philanthropist but a man I had the opportunity to know as my mentor and Father in Law.

"I worked as a chorus girl on the first few days of his directorial career in Oh What a Lovely War. His enthusiasm for life and creativity was contagious and his ability to make everyone feel important and valued was unique to him. When he called you darling you felt his love and I will forever miss him and the wisdom and love he shared with me and his friends and family.

 His movies and the way he was able to communicate will forever show that he was always ready to help fight for human dignity.  Personally I shall miss the man that inspired me the most. His love, advice, and wisdom. Above all he was a wonderful father brilliant and endlessly enthusiastic."

Attenborough was indeed a talent for the ages. His memorable roles later in life, usually sporting a snowy white beard, included prominent parts in Jurassic Park and Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet, and he played Kris Kringle in the 1994 remake of Miracle on 34th Street.

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