Harry Potter star Richard Griffiths dies

TO ONE generation, he was the eccentric, lecherous Uncle Monty in cult favourite Withnail & I, to another, the stern Uncle Vernon in the Harry Potter films.

Yesterday, both generations, and the worlds of stage and screen, came together to pay tribute to actor Richard Griffiths, who died from complications following heart surgery.

The award-winning performer was hailed as one of the greatest and most loved British actors by a string of his co-stars.

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His unexpected death in hospital on Thursday came at the age of 65 and followed a stellar career that brought him plaudits on both sides of the Atlantic.

Alongside his Harry Potter role as Vernon Dursley, he was best known as inspirational teacher Hector in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys – which earned him Laurence Olivier and Tony awards – and for his part in the 1987 film Withnail & I.

Daniel Radcliffe, who performed alongside him in the Harry Potter films and the stage play Equus, led the tributes to Griffiths.

He said: “Richard was by my side during two of the most important moments of my career.

“In August 2000, before official production had even begun on Potter, we filmed a shot outside the Dursleys’, 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 humour made it a joy.”

Sir Nicholas Hytner, director of the National Theatre, hailed the veteran actor’s stage skills and said his death would devastate his “army of friends”.

The director, who worked with Griffiths in The History Boys and The Habit Of Art, said: “Richard Griffiths wasn’t only one of the most loved and recognisable British actors – he was also one of the very greatest.

“His performance in The History Boys was quite overwhelming: a masterpiece of wit, delicacy, mischief and desolation, often simultaneously.

“But that was just one small part of a career that spanned Shakespeare, cutting-edge new plays and major work in film and television.”

Richard E Grant, who starred with Griffiths in Withnail & I, wrote on Twitter: “My beloved ‘Uncle Monty’ Richard Griffiths died last night. Chin-Chin my dear friend.”

Griffiths left school at 15 but later returned to education to study drama, before joining the Royal Shakespeare Company.

His early television career saw him land bit parts in series such as Minder, The Sweeney and Bergerac. Film credits included Chariots Of Fire, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, GoldenEye, Gandhi and The Naked Gun 2½.

Griffiths went on to star as a crime-solving chef in TV series Pie In The Sky during the 1990s, and made his first appearance as Uncle Vernon in Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone.

On stage, he was known for his zero-tolerance approach to mobile phones. In 2004, he famously ordered a man out of the National Theatre when his phone repeatedly rang during a performance of The History Boys. The following year, he stopped mid-speech during a production of Heroes at Wyndham’s Theatre to scold a woman whose phone kept ringing.

His agent, Simon Beresford, said: “Richard gave acting a good name. He was a remarkable man and one of our greatest and best-loved actors. He will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and deepest sympathy go to his devoted wife Heather and his family.”