You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Versatile British Actor Richard Griffiths Dead at 65

Actor starred in 'Harry Potter,' 'Equus,' 'Withnail and I'

Most of the obituaries for Richard Griffiths, who died March 28, led with his role in the “Harry Potter” films, but to theatergoers and cult-film fans, his role as Uncle Vernon in the fantasy films was just a footnote to a long and notable career.

The 65-year-old Griffiths, with his portly appearance and distinctive voice, had a long career on the British stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company, winning acclaim in such roles as Falstaff. He became known to film fans with the 1987 “Withnail and I,” which became a cult hit and led to other film and TV work.

But one of his best performances occurred when he was nearing 60, in Alan Bennett’s “The History Boys,” playing a popular teacher who was the centerpiece of the play. He won the Evening Standard award for his work, and a Tony when it moved to Broadway in 2006. That year, he re-created the role in the Nicholas Hytner-directed film.

Last year, Griffiths starred with Danny DeVito in the West End revival of Neil Simon’s “The Sunshine Boys,” which was scheduled to kick off the new season at L.A.’s Ahmanson Theatre Center Theatre Group, with a Sept. 24-Nov. 3 run. In a statement, CTG producing director Douglas C. Baker said, “He was one of the greats and will be dearly missed by all. ‘The Sunshine Boys’ producers, creative team, and CTG will meet soon to discuss future plans for the production.”

Griffiths had a fine sense of humor and large store of theatrical anecdotes, for which he was famous along with occasional bursts of temper. At an American Theater Wing panel discussion in April 2006, he talked about touring Hong Kong and New Zealand with “History Boys,” when some of the best lines didn’t get the anticipatory laughs.

Quoting George Burns he said, “I say something, they laugh and I shut up. they stop laughing and I say something else.” But in Hong Kong where the “History Boys” performance was accompanied by surtitles in Mandarin, Cantonese and English, he said, “You say a line and wait for the laugh but it never comes and it never comes so you look foolish like you’ve forgotten your line but you have not.”

National Theater a.d. Nicholas Hytner, who directed “History Boys,” called Griffiths’ performance in that play “a masterpiece of wit, delicacy, mischief and desolation, often simultaneously.”
Besides that work, Griffiths starred in another Rialto transfer from London: “Equus” with his “Harry Potter” co-star Daniel Radcliffe.

Richard was by my side during two of the most important moments of my career,” Radcliffe said last week. “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.”

Griffiths also played poet W.H. Auden in Bennett’s “The Habit of Art,” a hugely persuasive performance despite the lack of physical resemblance between the two men.

Griffiths is survived by his wife, Heather Gibson.

(Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Popular on Variety

More Legit

  • David-Alan-Grier-Blair-Underwood

    David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood to Star in 'A Soldier's Play' on Broadway

    David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood will star in a Broadway production of Pulitzer-Prize winning drama “A Soldier’s Play.” The play, written by Charles Fuller, is set in 1944 and follows a murder mystery centered around the death of black Sergeant Vernon C. Waters (played by Grier) who is found on a Louisiana army base. [...]

  • The Inheritance review

    'The Inheritance' Announces Broadway Cast

    After an Olivier-winning run in London, “The Inheritance” is gearing up for its Broadway debut. The two-part epic has set the cast for its transfer from the West End to the Great White Way. John Benjamin Hickey, Paul Hilton, Samuel H. Levine, Andrew Burnap and Kyle Soller are among the cast members reprising their roles [...]

  • Patrick Page, Amber Grey, Eva Noblezada,

    'Hadestown' Announces 2020 National Tour

    ‘Hadestown’, the eight-time Tony award winning Broadway musical, is set for a national tour in 2020. The show will stop in more than 30 cities including Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New Orleans, and more. The musical is a stage adaptation of the Greek myths of Orpheus and Eurydice and King Hades and his wife [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Listen: Why Jake Gyllenhaal Is His 'Best Self' in the Theater

    Looking for the best possible version of Jake Gyllenhaal? You’ll find it onstage, according to the actor himself. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “I am my best self when I’m working in the theater,” Gyllenhaal said on the latest episode Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast, on which he appeared with Carrie Cracknell, the director of [...]

  • Photo: Jeremy Daniel

    'The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical' Gets Broadway Run

    “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” is Broadway bound. The musical adaptation of the franchise about a teenager who discovers he’s the son of Poseidon hits the Great White Way on Sept. 20 ahead of an Oct. 16 opening night. It comes on the heels of an extensive, nationwide tour that took the show [...]

  • Tom Sturridge Jake Gyllenhaal

    Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge Celebrate 'Sea Wall/A Life' With Star-Studded Opening Night

    A star-studded audience looked on as Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge returned to the stage for their double monologue performance in “Sea Wall/A Life.” Theater-goers and celebs including Anne Hathaway, Tom Hiddleston and John Mulaney gathered in Manhattan’s Hudson Theatre for opening night, celebrating a show tackling grief, birth and death through the eyes of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content