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Richard Griffiths 1947-2013
The legendary character actor has died

29 March 2013  |  Written by Owen Williams  

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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.

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Your Comments

Too Soon
Whenever I read GoT books I always saw Wyman Manderly being played by Richard Griffiths. He was such a fantastic actor More

Posted by bnicholson50 at 17:24 on 05 April 2013 | Report This Post

Great actor
Whether it was "Pie in the sky" or "Harry Potter", he was always so watchable regardless of the character he played. So sad that he's passed away. More

Posted by oldstuff at 22:46 on 30 March 2013 | Report This Post

a sad day
a great loss, i will always remember you as the great uncle monty, chin chin More

Posted by montaguehwithnail at 11:06 on 30 March 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Perfect Character Actor
Goodbye Uncle Monty Chin! Chin! P More

Posted by Wild about Wilder at 10:00 on 30 March 2013 | Report This Post

Perfect Character Actor
In a world obsessed with fame what a sad loss of a man who was truly a character first. More

Posted by andrewgc at 22:35 on 29 March 2013 | Report This Post

God speed to a continuously happy place:)
You will always be the greatest uncle none of us ever had! Chin, chin More

Posted by coomi77 at 21:36 on 29 March 2013 | Report This Post

Sad loss!
A great British actor who gave us so many great and memorable performances. Rest in peace, a very sad loss. More

Posted by dannyfletch at 20:52 on 29 March 2013 | Report This Post

I loved his recent Empire podcast
His anecdote about Lee Marvin and Spencer Tracy was priceless. What a great actor, and such a generous person. RIP More

Posted by stevos at 17:29 on 29 March 2013 | Report This Post

Chin, chin
and thank you for giving us very memorable performances. R.I.P. More

Posted by nybras at 16:22 on 29 March 2013 | Report This Post

Condolences to your family. 65 is way too young. More

Posted by Jonda Fett at 16:18 on 29 March 2013 | Report This Post

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