Unwilling to part with his cast after the filming ended, Richardson's gift to the now-retired actors was a permanent home. More than 40 lions live in a habitat near the Magaliesberg Mountains. And it is here where Richardson began testing some of the limits of inter-species relations with his boundless affection.
"I've always had a nurturing philosophy. Shower them with love and it'll all come back if it's meant to be," says Richardson.
A provocative theory put to the test with every lion hug. Richardson's notoriety has also given him a platform to publicize the grave extinction threat now facing all of Africa's wild lions.
"Numbers have dropped by, in the past decade, up to 75 percent. That's a staggering amount considering that we're sitting on a figure of about 23,000 lions," he said. "I think the greater world does think of Africa as this big, open landscape. And it's not. Humans are encroaching and animal territories are getting smaller and more defined."
Richardson believes documenting his extraordinary encounters with captive lions can inspire public empathy for the big cats. Certainly the intimacy he's achieved can be startling, even to veteran lion experts.
Dr. Laurence Frank, director of the Living with Lions Laikipia Predator Project in Kenya, Africa, regards these encounters with "absolute terror."
"One of these days one of those lions is gonna be in a bad mood and there's nothing he's gonna be able to do about it," Frank said. "It's great for tourists to see and to come to appreciate lions. But conservation means wild animals in wild eco systems."
Richardson's take on conservation is to help save this ancient species by inspiring public awe of the lions' gentler side. And his mission may be helped, in part, by modern media. With the upcoming release of the nature film "White Lion", his memoir "Part of the Pride", TV appearances and the viral speed of the Internet, the world will soon witness Richardson's extraordinary life among these feared animals.
And many in the public will likely wonder how Richardson can form what he describes as a brotherhood among lions.
"People always love to hear about the defining moment, you know? I walked out into the back garden and this frog spoke to me. It didn't happen like that. I was one of those kids who used to play a lot outside in the dirt. And animals fascinated me. I'm like in my own little world with them."
Richardson's early introduction to a pair of boisterous young male lions changed the world as he knew it.
"It was more like an opportunity that presented itself and I grabbed it with both hands without realizing it. For me it was just meeting those two lions," says Richardson.
Their names are Tau and Napoleon. Tau was born with clear eyes and a shy personality. Richardson describes Napoleon as having a steadfast loyalty. Remarkably, he says these lions have since become his soul mates.
"Something just triggered in my innermost self, which was like, wow! This is the most amazing experience I've ever had. And I didn't want it to end. I was pretty, probably pretty selfish in the beginning. It was all about me. What can I gain from it? But I soon realized that they were gaining from it too," remembers Richardson.