Richard Griffiths 1947-2013
An exceptional character actor, Richard Griffiths may be best known to younger movie goers as Harry Potter’s cruel uncle Vernon Dursley and by older audiences as the charismatic teacher Hector from The History Boys 2006.
Griffiths was born on Thronaby-on-Tees, North Riding of Yorkshire, to deaf parents and learned sign language at an early age to communicate with them. In doing so he developed a talent for dialects that would serve him well in later life, enabling him to show off in a number of ethnic portrayals on radio, stage and film. In his childhood he attempted to run away from home many times. He dropped out of Our Lady & St Bede School at age 15 and briefly worked as a porter, but his boss eventually convinced him to go back to school. He decided to attend drama classes at Stockton & Billingham College and continued his education in drama at Manchester Polytechnic School of Drama.
Griffiths developed an early reputation as a Shakespearean clown, with larger-than-life portrayals of Henry VIII, Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor and Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the Royal Shakespeare Company, just a few of his standout stage credits.
He embarked on a prolific film career in the mid 70s and really took off by the early 80s with roles in Ragtime, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Chariots of Fire in 1981 and Gandhi 1982 all of which were either nominated or awarded Academy Awards, BAFTA’s and Golden Globes. He appeared in Gorky Park 1983 then Greystoke, The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes 1984. He also appeared in the cult film classic Withnail and I 1987.
Griffiths appeared in the very funny Naked Gun 2 1/2, The Smell of Fear 1991, Guarding Tess 1994 and the atmospheric and creepy Sleepy Hollow in 1999 but it wasn’t until after the turn of the century that his career got its second wind with his participation in the Harry Potter franchise as uncle Vernon Darsley. He was in 5 of the Potter films beginning with The Sorcerer’s Stone and reprised the role in The Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban, The Order of the Phoenix and Deathly Hallows between 2001 and 2010. In 2006 Griffiths appeared on the London stage in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, a story about a group of high achieving yet streetwise students who prepare to take the entrance exams in hopes of getting into Oxford or Cambridge where Griffiths played the role of their beloved teacher and mentor Hector, who was the emotional heart of the story. The play was a smashing success and toured the world finally making it to Broadway where Griffiths was awarded a Tony for his portrayal. The History Boys 2006 made a very good film and the entire original London cast participated in making it. Griffiths received a host of awards for his performance as Hector, these included the Laurence Olivier Award for best actor, the Drama Desk Award for outstanding actor in a play, the Outer Critics Circle Award for best featured actor in a play.
In 2008 he was awarded the coveted Officer of the Order of the British Empire.
Griffiths was also well-known as an actor who took a strong line against members of theatre audiences whose mobile telephones rang out during performances. At least twice, he was known to have stopped a show to order people out of the theatre after their phones had persistently rung.
Griffiths married Heather Gibson in 1980. They remained married until his death today at age 65 from complications following heart surgery.