Richard Griffiths, 65, died on Thursday, March 28, following heart surgery at University Hospital in Coventry, England. Although known by the masses solely as the Harry Potter actor who played Uncle Vernon Dursley, Griffiths was a renowned star of the British stage, winner of multiple theater awards for his performance as the free-spirited teacher with an uncontrollable — and unapologetic — urge to get (quite) close to his male teenage students in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys. (Photo: Richard Griffiths The History Boys, with Dominic Cooper.)
Additionally, Griffiths was a respected film actor — not because of the Harry Potter movies, mind you, but thanks to British indie fare such as Nicholas Hytner’s excellent film version of The History Boys (2006), in which he is nothing short of magnificent, and Bruce Robinson’s quirky Withnail & I (1987), with Griffiths as Richard E. Grant’s flaming gay Uncle Monty ("God fulfills himself in many ways. And soon, I suppose, I shall be swept away by some vulgar little tumor").
The British-born Richard Griffiths (on July 31, 1947, in Thornaby-on-Tees, North Riding of Yorkshire) began his show business career working on radio. He later went on stage, with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and landed roles on television. Among Griffiths’ stage credits are The Merry Wives of Windsor, as Falstaff; a revival of Peter Shaffer’s Equus, opposite Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe; and a recent British revival of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys, with Danny DeVito. For his work in The History Boys, Griffiths received, among others, a Tony Award, a Laurence Olivier Award, and a Drama Desk Award.
Richard Griffiths movies
Besides Withnail & I and The History Boys, Richard Griffiths’ movie credits include Hugh Hudson’s Chariots of Fire (1981); Karel Reisz’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981), supporting Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons; Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982); Roland Joffé’s Vatel (1990), supporting Gérard Depardieu; and Richard Eyre’s Stage Beauty, in which Griffiths nearly steals the show as scuzzy patron of the arts Sir Charles Sedley.
Besides the Harry Potter movies, among them Chris Columbus’ Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), Alfonso Cuarón’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), and David Yates’ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (but not Part 2), Richard Griffiths’ big-budget Hollywood (or part-Hollywood) movies include Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (2012) and Rob Marshall / Johnny Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2012), as King George.
According to the IMDb, Griffiths’ last film appearance was in Pat O’Connor’s World War I drama Private Peaceful, starring Jack O’Connell in the title role and featuring Griffiths’ fellow The History Boys player Frances de la Tour.
Among Richard Griffiths’ many television roles were those in The Two Cleopatras (1983), A King of Living in the late ’80s, and Pie in the Sky in the mid-’90s.
Daniel Radcliffe remembers Richard Griffiths
"Richard was by my side during two of the most important moments of my career," Daniel Radcliffe was quoted as saying in a statement. "In August 2000, before official production had even begun on Potter, we filmed a shot outside the Dursleys’ [home], which was my first ever shot as Harry. I was nervous and he made me feel at ease. Seven years later, we embarked on Equus together. It was my first time doing a play but, terrified as I was, his encouragement, tutelage and humor made it a joy. In fact, any room he walked into was made twice as funny and twice as clever just by his presence."
Richard Griffiths The History Boys, with Dominic Cooper photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures.