Withnail & I Actor Richard Griffiths Dies

Actor Richard Griffiths, best known for his roles in The History Boys, Withnail & I and Pie In The Sky, has died.

He died of complications following heart surgery at the University Hospital of Coventry and Warwickshire. He was 65.

Born in Thornaby-on-Tees in North Yorkshire in 1947, Griffiths established himself as a much-loved character actor in dozens of films and television series over five decades.

His best-known roles included his turn as the lascivious Uncle Monty in the cult 1987 movie Withnail & I, and as Hector in the stage and film version of Alan Bennett's The History Boys.

He had recently been introduced to a new generation of fans with his performances as Vernon Dursley in the Harry Potter films.

Griffiths worked with big-name Hollywood directors - featuring in Martin Scorsese's Hugo and Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow - as well as appearing in TV comedies like The Vicar Of Dibley, Ted And Ralph and Lovejoy.

Between 1994 and 1997 he starred in the BBC series Pie In The Sky as detective-turned-restaurateur Henry Crabbe.

Having originally made his name on stage with Shakespearean roles including Falstaff and Bottom, he appeared last year as the Duke of Burgundy in Henry V as part of the BBC's celebrated Hollow Crown series.

He had recently been appearing in Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys with Danny DeVito in the West End and had been due to reprise his role in the production in Los Angeles in September.

He was awarded an OBE in 2008 for services to drama.

Griffiths was famously said to have had little patience for people who allowed their mobile phones to ring in the theatre, reportedly stopping during a performance of The History Boys and telling the offending audience member: "I am asking you to stand up, leave this auditorium and never, ever come back."

Born to deaf parents he learned sign language at an early age.

He is survived by his wife, Heather Gibson.

Richard E Grant, who played Withnail in Withnail & I, wrote on Twitter: "My beloved 'Uncle Monty' Richard Griffiths died last night. Chin-Chin my dear friend."

Co-star Paul McGann wrote: "A brilliant, funny, principled man, and a true gent. Led the way on Withnail & I. Wore his great skill lightly and his great heart out. RIP."

Daniel Radcliffe, who starred as Harry Potter and also appeared alongside Griffiths in the play Equus, led tributes to the actor.

He said: "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.

"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."

National Theatre director Sir Nicholas Hytner, who directed 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."

His agent Simon Beresford said: "Richard brightened my days and enriched the life of anyone he came into contact with.

"On stage he allowed us to share in our own humanity and constantly question our differences. 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 at this sad time."