Richard Griffiths, Star of Withnail & I and History Boys, Dies at 65
British character actor Richard Griffiths, who died Thursday at age 65, was best known in the U.S. for portraying the obnoxious Uncle Vernon in the Harry Potter films, but he also played some notable gay roles in film and theater, including his turns in Withnail & I and The History Boys.
In Withnail & I, a 1987 British film that has attracted a devoted cult following, he played Monty, the gay uncle of struggling London actor Withnail (Richard E. Grant) who becomes attracted to Withnail’s friend Marwood (Paul McGann) when the two pals come to stay at Monty’s country cottage. “I mean to have you even if it must be burglary!” Monty says to Marwood, in one of many memorable lines. Upon hearing of Griffiths’s death, Grant tweeted, “My beloved Uncle Monty Richard Griffiths died last night. Chin-Chin my dear friend,” the BBC reports.
Griffiths went on to star in Alan Bennett’s acclaimed 2004 play The History Boys and its 2006 film version as Hector, a charismatic, unconventional gay teacher who seeks to inspire his working-class students to excel academically — but sometimes gets physically inappropriate with them. He appeared in the play both in London’s West End and on Broadway, and his performance won him the Olivier Award in the U.K. and the Tony Award in the U.S. Director Nicholas Hytner described Griffiths’s portrayal as “a masterpiece of wit, delicacy, mischief and desolation, often simultaneously.”
His other credits include the 2006 London revival of Peter Shaffer’s play Equus, in which he again acted alongside the Harry Potter series’ Daniel Radcliffe; many stage roles with the Royal Shakespeare Company; the popular 1990s British TV series Pie in the Sky, a lighthearted detective show; and numerous films, including Gandhi, Chariots of Fire, Gorky Park, Sleepy Hollow, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. In one of the highest honors he received in his career, he was named Officer of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 2008.
Griffiths, who died of complications following heart surgery, is survived by his wife, actress Heather Gibson.