London: When asked a few years ago what he would like his epitaph to be, Richard Griffiths suggested he all he needed was time.
He joked that he wanted it to read: “Richard Griffiths. Actor. Born 1947. Died 2947”.
Griffiths, one of Britain’s best-loved and most recognisable stars of stage and screen, did not achieve his goal.
He died on Thursday from complications following heart surgery. He was 65.
As the news broke on Friday tributes came from friends, fans and colleagues who had worked with him throughout his long career.
Griffiths, who played the self-satisfied Uncle Vernon Dursley in the Harry Potter films, was probably best known among older generations for his role as the predatory Uncle Monty in the cult film Withnail & I.
Daniel Radcliffe and Richard E Grant led a stream of heartfelt condolences in which the actor was described as a “comic genius” and praised for his “encouragement, tutelage and humour”.
Radcliffe, who also appeared alongside Griffiths in the West End play Equus, said the actor had put him at ease as he prepared to shoot his first scene as Harry Potter.
“Richard was by my side during two of the most important moments of my career,” he said. “Any room he walked into was made twice as funny and twice as clever just by his presence.”
Grant said he would be “raising a figurative glass” to his old friend. “My beloved ‘Uncle Monty’ Richard Griffiths died last night,” he wrote on Twitter. “Chin-Chin my dear friend.” Griffiths won a Laurence Olivier Award and a Tony Award for his portrayal as the inspirational teacher in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys.
Griffiths was born in North Yorkshire, to parents who were deaf. He had a hard upbringing and frequently ran away from home.
His acting career began as a clown with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and he later won small roles in television shows such as Minder, The Sweeney and Bergerac.
In the 1990s, Griffiths starred as a crime-solving chef in the television series Pie In The Sky and made his first appearance as Uncle Vernon in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 2001.
The actor was famed for his intolerance to mobile phones in theatres, halting several performances to demand that the perpetrator leave.
Sir Trevor Nunn, the director who took Griffiths into the RSC, said: “As the Shakespeare he loved put it, ‘There’s a great spirit gone’.”
He is survived by his wife, Heather, with whom he lived near Stratford-upon-Avon. —The Daily Telegraph