'Harry Potter' Actor Richard Griffiths Dies Following Heart Surgery

Stuart Kemp

LONDON -- Actor Richard Griffiths, who starred in the Harry Potter movies and rose to cult status in the U.K. after his turn in Withnail and I, has died from complications following heart surgery. He was 65.

Griffiths was star of both the big and small screens, and also enjoyed a long career on the stage where he was a Tony-winning character actor.

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Griffiths became globally known thanks to his role as Vernon Dursley, Harry Potter's guardian, in the Harry Potter films. He was long beloved in England for his portrayal of Uncle Monty in Bruce Robinson's classic comedy Withnail and I (1987), produced by George Harrison. His TV roles included playing a cookery-loving detective in Pie in the Sky.

On stage he was remembered for his turn as the charismatic teacher Hector in Alan Bennett's The History Boys, a role he reprised in the 2006 film version.

He was accorded an honorary title in the U.K. of Order of the British Empire in the 2008.

Born in Thornaby-on-Tees, North Yorkshire, Griffiths left school at 15 but later returned to education to study drama, before joining the Royal Shakespeare Company.

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He married Heather Gibson in 1980 after they met during a production of Lady Windermere's Fan in 1973.

Early TV career breakthroughs saw him land small roles in series such as Minder, The Sweeney and Bergerac, while he also began appearing in movies including Chariots of Fire, Superman II and Gandhi.

Harry Potter co-star Daniel Radcliffe -- who also appeared on stage with him in Equus -- paid tribute on the BBC News website: "Richard was by my side during two of the most important moments of my career. I was proud to know him."

National Theatre director Nicholas Hytner said Griffiths's unexpected death would devastate his "army of friends."

He said: "Richard Griffiths wasn't only one of the most loved and recognizable 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."