Richard Griffiths 1947-2013

The legendary character actor has died

Richard Griffiths: Withnail's Uncle Monty, Vernon Dursley

Sad news to start this Easter weekend: the much-loved character actor (and Empire podcast raconteur) Richard Griffiths has died following complications after heart surgery. He was 65.

Justly celebrated for a wide variety of roles on film, television and stage, he was famous as different characters to different generations. The younger among us probably knew him best as the odious Vernon Dursley in the Harry Potter films. To many of the rest of us, he'll always be Withnail's Uncle Monty.

He was much more, though. Growing up in Yorkshire, the son of deaf parents with whom he spoke in sign language, he left school at 15, but would eventually study drama at what's now the Manchester School of Theatre. His early stage work lead him to the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he gained some renown as Falstaff in The Merry Wives Of Windsor, and as Henry VIII (he never did play The Dane).

His break in film came with It Shouldn't Happen To A Vet in 1975, and he subsequently made appearances in the likes of The French Lieutenant's Woman, Chariots Of Fire, Gandhi and Greystoke, before attempting to seduce Paul McGann and rhapsodising the humble carrot in Withnail And I. He played twins in The Naked Gun 2½, and Magistrate Philipse in Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow. He was in five of the eight Harry Potter films, and most recently had roles in Martin Scorsese's Hugo and the Michael Morpurgo adaptation Private Peaceful.

On television, he racked up parts in series like The Sweeney, Bergerac and Inspector Morse, and fronted his own detective series, Pie In The Sky, from 1994-97. His penultimate small-screen role was in the early episodes of Episodes, playing an actor famous for essentially playing the same character he'd made his own (to the sound of an avalanche of awards) in Alan Bennet's The History Boys, both on stage and in its film version. He was last seen as Henry V's Duke Of Burgundy in NBC's Shakespearean series The Hollow Crown. He was awarded the OBE in 2008.

"In August 2000, before official production had even begun on Harry Potter, we filmed a shot outside the Dursleys', which was my first ever shot as Harry," said Daniel Radcliffe in tribute. "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. In fact, 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."

Sir Nicholas Hytner, who directed Griffiths in The History Boys at the National Theatre, said he was "one of the most loved and recognisable British actors [and] also one of the very greatest". He called Griffiths' performance as the English teacher Douglas Hector, "overwhelming: a masterpiece of wit, delicacy, mischief and desolation, often simultaneously."

Richard E. Grant toasted his erstwhile uncle on his way with, "Chin chin, dear friend." So say all of us.