30 Mar 2013

Actor Richard Griffiths dies after surgery

9:16 am on 30 March 2013

British actor Richard Griffiths has died after complications following heart surgery. He was 65.

Griffiths spent almost four decades in radio, film, on television and on stage, and received some of his industry's top awards for his role in Alan Bennett's play The History Boys.

His agent Simon Beresford described him as "a remarkable man and one of our greatest and best-loved actors" and said he died in hospital on Thursday.

The portly character actor filled the screen as the lascivious Uncle Monty in the cult black comedy film Withnail and I.

But younger fans will remember him for his portrayal of a much crueler avuncular figure in the Harry Potter films as the boy wizard's red-faced and bullying uncle Vernon Dursley, Reuters reports.

Daniel Radcliffe, who played Harry Potter and performed with Griffiths in the stage play Equus, said the veteran performer had encouraged and coached him and helped him get over his nerves.

"Richard was by my side during two of the most important moments of my career ... 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," Radcliffe said in a statement.

Richard Griffiths was born in Thornaby-on-Tees in Yorkshire, northern England, the son of a steelworker. Both his parents were deaf and he learned sign language to communicate with them.

After studying drama in Manchester, he worked in radio and theatre, building a reputation as a Shakespearean clown.

He reprised his role as teacher Hector in a film of The History Boys in 2006. One of his best known roles on TV was a cookery-loving detective in Pie in the Sky.

For much of his acting career he struggled to make money and said that winning the Harry Potter role had saved him financially.

On stage, he was known for his intolerance of mobile phones ringing during performances, and halted plays several times to complain and even eject offending audience members.

In 2008, Griffiths was given an OBE and is survived by his wife Heather.