The worlds of stage and screen yesterday paid tribute to Harry Potter actor Richard Griffiths after he died from complications following heart surgery.
The award-winning performer, who appeared as Uncle Vernon Dursley in the Potter films, was hailed as one of the greatest and most-loved British actors by a string of co-stars and colleagues.
His unexpected death on Thursday, at the University Hospital of Coventry and Warwickshire, came at the age of 65 and followed a stellar career which drew plaudits on both sides of the Atlantic.
Alongside his Harry Potter role, he was best known for the part of inspirational teacher Hector in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys – which earned him a Laurence Olivier and a Tony award – and for playing Uncle Monty in cult favourite Withnail & I.
Daniel Radcliffe, who performed alongside Griffiths in the Harry Potter films and in the stage play Equus, led tributes to the actor whose “encouragement, tutelage and humour” made work “a joy”.
“Richard was by my side during two of the most important moments of my career,” he said.
“In August 2000, before official production had even begun on Potter, we filmed a shot outside the Dursleys’, which was my first ever shot as Harry. I was nervous and he made me feel at ease.
“Seven years later, we embarked on Equus together. It was my first time doing a play but, terrified as I was, his encouragement, tutelage and humour made it a joy.”
Sir Nicholas Hytner, director of the National Theatre, hailed the veteran actor’s stage skills and said his death would devastate his “army of friends”.
The director, who worked with Griffiths in The History Boys and The Habit of Art, said: “Richard Griffiths wasn’t only one of the most-loved and recognisable British actors – he was also one of the very greatest.
“His performance in The History Boys was quite overwhelming: a masterpiece of wit, delicacy, mischief and desolation, often simultaneously.
“But that was just one small part of a career that spanned Shakespeare, cutting-edge new plays and major work in film and television.”
Theatre director Sir Trevor Nunn praised Griffiths’s “instinctive comic genius” and “rare emotional and indeed tragic power”.
“Richard inspired great love and spread much happiness, and as the Shakespeare he loved put it, ‘There’s a great spirit gone’,” he said.
Richard E Grant, who performed alongside Griffiths in Withnail & I, paid his respects on Twitter, writing: “My beloved ‘Uncle Monty’ Richard Griffiths died last night. Chin-Chin my dear friend.”
Quoting one of the actor’s comic lines from the same film, broadcaster Danny Baker added: “Richard Griffiths has died: ‘The carrot has mystery. Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees.’ RIP old cork.”
Further messages from fans flooded the social networking site where “#RIPRichardGriffiths”, “Withnail” and “Uncle Vernon” became trending topics.
Withnail & I was released in 1987. Shot on a shoestring budget and with little plot to speak of, it was largely ignored when first released but is now regarded as a British classic.
Griffiths went on to star as a crime-solving chef in TV series Pie in the Sky during the 1990s, and made his first appearance as Uncle Vernon in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, in 2001.
On stage, he was known for his zero-tolerance approach to mobile phones.
In 2004 he famously ordered a man out of the National Theatre when his mobile repeatedly rang during a performance of The History Boys. The following year he stopped mid-speech during a production of Heroes at Wyndham’s Theatre to scold a woman whose telephone kept ringing.
His agent Simon Beresford said: “Richard gave acting a good name. He was a remarkable man and one of our greatest and best-loved actors. He will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and deepest sympathy go to his devoted wife Heather and his family at this sad time.”
The actor, who starred alongside Danny DeVito in Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys at the Savoy Theatre last year, was due to reprise the role in September in Los Angeles.