'Harry Potter' Actor Richard Griffiths Dies Following Heart Surgery

Richard Griffiths with Daniel Radcliffe

Daniel Radcliffe leads tributes to the English actor, who achieved cult status in the U.K. for his turn in the George Harrison-produced comedy classic, "Withnail and I."

LONDON -- Richard Griffiths, a Tony-winning actor who played Uncle Vernon in five Harry Potter films, died Thursday in Coventry, England, from complications following heart surgery. He was 65.

Griffiths, who rose to cult status in the U.K. with his turn in the 1987 film Withnail and I, was star of both the big and small screens and also enjoyed a long career on the stage. He was accorded an honorary title in the U.K. of Order of the British Empire in the 2008.

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He became globally known thanks to his role as Vernon Dursley, Harry Potter's guardian, in the Harry Potter films. But he was long beloved in England for his portrayal of Uncle Monty in Bruce Robinson's classic comedy Withnail and I, 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, for which he won a Tony Award for best actor in a play. He reprised the role in Nicholas Hytner's 2006 film version.

Hytner, now director of the National Theater, said Griffiths' unexpected death would devastate his "army of friends."

Born in Thornaby-on-Tees, North Yorkshire, Griffiths left school at 15 but later returned 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 star Daniel Radcliffe -- who also appeared on stage with Griffiths in Equus -- paid tribute to him 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."

He added: "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."