Attenborough is perhaps best known for his work on the 1982 film "Gandhi," which won eight Academy Awards, including best picture and best director.
The film took Attenborough some 20 years to make.
"I was bankrupt several times. I had to mortgage my house. My family suffered to a certain extent," he said. "I placed things at risk because I cared about it so much."
He died Sunday, according to his agent, Dallas Smith. The family is expected to make a statement Monday, Smith told CNN.
"Our thoughts are with them and his friends at this very sad moment as we mourn the passing of a truly great man of the cinema and the arts," Smith said.
Attenborough began his career as a classically trained English actor and went on to star in such films as "The Great Escape," "Jurassic Park" and a remake of "Miracle on 34th Street." He was knighted in 1976.
British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted Sunday: "His acting in 'Brighton Rock' was brilliant, his directing of 'Gandhi' was stunning -- Richard Attenborough was one of the greats of cinema."
The cause of his death was not immediately clear.
Attenborough's marriage to actress Sheila Sim spanned seven decades and produced three children.
"My philosophy has always been that I believe that art is not an elitist gift for a few select people. Art is for everyone," he once said.
Attenborough also appeared as Santa Claus in the 1994 remake of "Miracle on 34th Street."
After playing several characters in movies, he moved to the other side of the camera.
"It's what I love. I'm not a great movie director. I'm not an auteur," he said of directing. "I'm a storyteller. I'm a craftsman. And I love beyond anything else working with the actors and finding a way to make the actor believe that what they're about to do is the best performance they've ever given."
He also appeared in several war movies, including "The Great Escape" with Steve McQueen.
(Dana Ford, CNN)
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