While modern audiences will remember Richard Griffiths as Uncle Vernon Dursley in the Harry Potter franchise, the 65 year-old actor was also one the most highly respected stage actors of his generation. He passed away on March 28th following complications from heart surgery.
While stage work was where he learned his craft, he made the successful transition in the early 1970s into television. In the early 80’s he began a string of supporting roles in films like Gorky Park, but it was his role in the 1987 cult film Withnail and I, where he played lecherous Uncle Monty that, that would bring him more recognition to a wider audience. He parlayed that into other supporting roles in Hollywood like King Ralph, The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear, Guarding Tess and Sleepy Hollow.
In 2001, he debuted as Uncle Vernon in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a role he would reprise five more times, appearing in six of the eight films. He would also have roles in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Hugo. The actor also starred in The History Boys as the teacher Hector on stage, a role that won him the Olivier, the British version of the Tony. He would go on to play the character again on Broadway, where he would win the Tony for his performance and continued the role in the 2006 film version. But it’s his role, as the grudging, magic-fearing guardian of orphaned wizard Harry, that will remain his most well-know role; it was small but pivotal. Griffiths once said he liked playing Uncle Vernon “because that gives me a license to be horrible to kids.” But Daniel Radcliffe recalled Griffiths’ kindness to the young star. “Richard was by my side during two of the most important moments of my career,” said Radcliffe, who in 2007 starred with Griffiths in a London and Broadway production of Equus.”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 humor made it a joy.”
He is survived by his wife of nearly thirty years, Heather Gibson.