Richard Griffiths, star of Harry Potter movies and Withnail & I, dies

British character actor counted Harry Potter's Uncle Vernon among many celebrated roles

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 March, 2013, 3:58am


British actor Richard Griffiths, best known for his roles as Harry Potter's uncle and in the cult film Withnail & I, has died aged 65, his agent said yesterday.

The stage and screen star, one of Britain's best-loved character actors, died on Thursday from complications following heart surgery, Simon Beresford said.

Griffiths will be remembered as Uncle Monty by fans of Withnail & I, but reached his biggest audience as Uncle Vernon Dursley in the Harry Potter films.

Daniel Radcliffe, who played the boy wizard in the blockbuster Potter series, led the tributes to a man he said had offered him "encouragement, tutelage and humour". The two men worked together on the Harry Potter films and later in the play Equus. "Any room he walked into was made twice as funny and twice as clever just by his presence. I am proud to say I knew him," Radcliffe said.

Griffiths was born on July 31, 1947 in Yorkshire, northern England, the son of a steelworker. His parents were deaf, so he learned sign language at an early age. He left school at 15 and worked as a porter, but his boss persuaded him to go back to education to study drama. He later joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, excelling in playing the clown.

Early film credits included Chariots of Fire, The French Lieutenant's Woman and Gandhi, before he landed a starring role in the 1987 comedy Withnail & I. Griffiths played the eccentric gay uncle of Withnail, an out-of-work, alcoholic actor played by Richard E. Grant, in a film regarded as a British classic. Grant said on Twitter: "My beloved 'Uncle Monty' … died last night. Chin-chin my dear friend."

Nicholas Hytner, director of London's National Theatre who directed Griffiths in one of his biggest stage hits, The History Boys, said he was "the life of every party". He recalled anecdotes that "would go on for hours, apparently without destination, constantly side-splitting. The only way to stop them was to tell him you were walking away".

Griffiths won a Tony and an Olivier award for his role as an inspirational teacher in The History Boys, and was nominated for a Bafta for the film version. "His performance in The History Boys was quite overwhelming: a masterpiece of wit, delicacy, mischief and desolation, often simultaneously," said Hytner.

As a stage actor, Griffiths demanded his audience's full attention, having twice stopped a show to order people out of the theatre after their mobile telephones rang out. He also had a successful television career, starring as a crime-solving chef in the series Pie In The Sky in the 1990s, and he was awarded an OBE for services to drama in 2007.