Family & Companions
After a career on stage and screen in his native Britain, where he was renowned as both a Shakespearean clown and a fine dramatic player, Richard Griffiths saw his profile rise across the Atlantic after portraying the lusty and life-loving Uncle Monty in the cult classic "Withnail and I" (1987). Prior to that long-remembered breakout performance, Griffiths was a frequent performer with the Royal Shakespeare Company before he began landing small, but significant roles in award-winning films like "Chariots of Fire" (1981) and "Gandhi" (1982). From there, he was the British husband of Elaine Stritch on "Nobody's Perfect" (ITV, 1980-82) and a cynical lawyer in "Gorky Park" (1983). After "Withnail and I," Griffiths delivered a memorable dual performance in "The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear" (1991) and earned a new generation of fans for his often brief, but unforgettable turn as comic villain Uncle Vernon Dursley in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (2001). While reprising the role in four of the seven films in the franchise, Griffiths maintained a steady presence on stage and screen as one of Britain's finest comedic characters actors.
Born on July 31, 1947in Stockton-on-Tees, England and raised in Thornaby, Griffiths was the son of deaf parents and learned sign language before he could speak. He experienced a somewhat troubled childhood, which included frequent attempts to run away from home, and even dropped out of school at age 15. Hired as a porter, Griffiths was encouraged to return to school by his boss and a drama class at Stockton & Billingham College literally changed his life. Shortly after leaving the college, the portly actor earned a spot in the repertory company of BBC Radio. Too young to be a character player and too hefty to be a leading man, he found himself working in small theaters around Britain as a sometimes actor and stage manager. Finally settling in Manchester, Griffiths began landing solid parts on the stage, including in an early work of a then unknown Alan Ayckbourn. He also made his first forays on the small screen, appearing in bit roles in Granada Television productions like "Crown Court" (1974) and "Village Hall" (1974).
By chance, he was working in front of the cameras when Trevor Nunn, the artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Company, happened to be in the studios and saw him on a monitor. Nunn encouraged the actor to head to London for a spot with the RSC. Griffiths spent several seasons with the company, at first playing small comic roles in the classics like Peter in "Romeo and Juliet" as well as having a few lines in "A Comedy of Errors." Proving the old adage that there are no small parts, he proved a success with audiences despite his limited stage time and graduated to more important roles like Bottom in a 1977 staging of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." In 1979, he earned several accolades for his turn as the Hollywood-bound George in the Kaufman and Hart play "Once in a Lifetime" and was perfectly cast as Falstaff in "The Merry Wives of Windsor."
Having made his feature debut in "It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet/All Things Bright and Beautiful" (1975), Griffiths landed the key role of the British husband of an American woman (Elaine Stritch) on "Nobody's Perfect" (ITV, 1980-82), an Anglicized version of the popular American sitcom "Maude." He followed up with a role as a porter in the Oscar-winning "Chariots of Fire" (1981) and was a reporter in "Gandhi" (1982). Griffiths excelled as a mild-mannered computer genius who discovers a financial conspiracy in the thriller "Bird of Prey" (1982), a part he reprised in the sequel "Bird of Prey 2" (1984), while in between he made an impression as a cynical lawyer in "Gorky Park" (1983) and as the accountant who inexplicably falls in love with a pig in "A Private Function" (1985). But it was his turn as the gay Uncle Monty, who has eyes for Paul McGann's Marwood, in "Withnail and I" (1987) that really established him as a notable character player. In fact, his role as Uncle Monty was long-remembered, thanks to the film becoming one of England's biggest cult movies of all time.
Instead of capitalizing on that success, Griffiths retreated to British sitcoms with "Ffizz" (ITV 1987-89), "A Kind of Living" (ITV 1988-1990) and "Pie in the Sky" (BBC 1994-97). The actor did make occasional appearances in TV movies that aired in the U.S. like "Casanova" (ABC, 1987) and was remembered for his dual performance as a prissy German and a Southern redneck in the farcical comedy "The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear" (1991). After a turn as a dryly amusing butler in "Guarding Tess" (1994), he was part of an assorted cast of characters that included Oliver Platt, Jerry Lewis, Leslie Caron and Oliver Reed for the Disney comedy "Funny Bones" (1995). Following supporting turns in "The Warrens" (1997) and "The Canterbury Tales" (1998), Griffiths ventured over to the television side where he voiced a character on "Archibald the Koala" (ITV, 1998-2000) and was the chief education officer on the made-for-British TV series "Hope and Glory" (BBC, 1999-2000). He returned to Hollywood as the Magistrate Philipse opposite Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci in Tim Burton's "Sleepy Hollow" (1999), and had another notable supporting role opposite Gérard Depardieu, Uma Thurman and Tim Roth in the French-set period drama "Vatel" (2000).
In 2000, Griffiths delivered a finely calibrated turn as the piggish thug overseeing the kitchen in the BBC miniseries "Gormenghast" and appeared on the London stage the following year in the long-running comedy "Art" and the revival of "Luther" starring Rufus Sewell. He went on to a small, but memorable recurring character turn as Uncle Vernon Dursley, the mean muggle who treats his would-be wizard nephew Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) like an unwanted stepchild in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (2001). Often only featured in the beginning of every film, Griffiths reprised the character for "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" (2002), "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (2004), "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" (2007), and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1" (2010). The only movies he did not appear in were "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (2005), "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" (2009) and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2" (2011).
In between "Potter" movies, Griffiths had a supporting turn in Richard Eyre's "Stage Beauty" (2004) and voiced the Vogon Jeltz in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (2005). Following his portrayal of Mr. Bayham Badger in the small screen adaptation of "Bleak House" (BBC, 2005), he had larger roles in the British comedy "The History Boys" (2006) and the American-made "Bedtime Stories" (2008), starring Adam Sandler. The actor went on to join a group of other well-known actors from the U.K. like Ewan McGregor, Rosamund Pike and Timothy Spall for the satirical "Jackboots on Whitehall" (2010) while recurring on the British-American co-production "Episodes" (Showtime/BBC, 2011- ), which starred Matt LeBlanc as a caricature of himself. From there, Griffiths portrayed King George II in "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" (2011) and was Monsieur Frick in Martin Scorsese's Oscar-nominated children's fantasy "Hugo" (2011). In 2012, Griffiths appeared alongside Danny DeVito in a West End rival of Neil Simon's "The Sunshine Boys," where it played a limited 12-week run. But the following year, Griffiths' life was cut short on March 28, 2013 when he died at the University Hospital in Coventry, England from complications following heart surgery. He was 65 years old.
By Shawn Dwyer
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Was member of BBC Radio Drama repertory company
Made TV debut in small roles on Granada TV dramas "Crown Court' and "Village Hall"
Made first film appearance in "It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet"; re-released three years later as "All Things Bright and Beautiful"
Joined Royal Shakespeare Company
Offered impressive turn as Bottom in Royal Shakespeare Company production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
Won raves for performances as Lariosik in "The White Guard" on London stage
Played the husband of an American (Elaine Stritch) living in England on ITV comedy "Nobody's Perfect"
Landed minor role in Oscar-winning film "Chariots of Fire"
Played lead role of computer programmer Henry Jay in four-part BBC drama "Bird of Prey"
Perfectly cast as Sir John Falstaff in BBC TV production of "The Merry Wives of Windsor"
Played a British reporter in "Gandhi"
First significant film role, "Gorky Park"
Portrayed "Henry VIII" at Royal Shakespeare Company
Reprised role of Henry Jay for "Bird of Prey 2"
Co-starred with Madonna and Sean Penn in box office bomb "Shanghai Surprise"
Starred as a wine merchant on British comedy series "Ffizz" (ITV)
Delivered memorable performance as the lusty Uncle Monty in "Withnail and I"
Cast as a teacher who moves from Bolton to London with his resentful wife and newborn child on British series "A Kind of Living" (ITV)
Played dual roles of a German scientist and an American Southerner in "The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear"
Starred as a mild-mannered policeman who runs a restaurant on BBC series "Pie in the Sky"
Played title role in "The Life of Galileo" at Almeida Theatre in London
Featured in "Funny Bones"
Played one of the magistrates in "Sleepy Hollow"
Portrayed a doctor in "Vatel"
Offered a memorable performance as the corpulent kitchen master in British miniseries "Gormenghast" (BBC)
Co-starred in London stage production of "Luther" alongside Rufus Sewell
Cast as the young hero's evil Uncle Dursley in feature adaptation of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"
Reprised role of Uncle Dursley for "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets"
Again played Uncle Dursley in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban"
Starred opposite Claire Danes and Billy Crudup in "Stage Beauty"
Portrayed a beloved teacher in Broadway production of "The History Boys"
Starred opposite Peter O'Toole in "Venus"
Reprised role for film version of "The History Boys"
Reprised role of Uncle Dursley for "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"
Reunited with "Harry Potter" star Daniel Radcliffe in stage revival of Peter Shaffer's "Equus" at Gielgud Theatre in London; play transferred to Broadway 2008
Co-starred with Adam Sandler in "Bedtime Stories"
Reprised role of Uncle Vernon for seventh and final installment of the series "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1," directed by David Yates
Portrayed King George II in "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," the fourth installment in popular series
Cast in Martin Scorsese's family adventure "Hugo"
Played the Duke of Burgundy in "Henry V" installment of miniseries "The Hollow Crown" (BBC)
Last major stage role, a West End production of Neil Simon's comedy "The Sunshine Boys" opposite Danny DeVito