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Thespian gained fame in 'Potter' films

| Saturday, March 30, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

LONDON — Richard Griffiths was one of the great British stage actors of his generation, a heavy man with a light touch, whether in Shakespeare or Neil Simon. But for millions of movie fans, he will always be grumpy Uncle Vernon, the least magical of characters in the fantastical “Harry Potter” movies.

Griffiths died on Thursday in University Hospital in Coventry, central England, from complications after heart surgery, his agent, Simon Beresford, said. He was 65.

“Harry Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe paid tribute to the actor on Friday, saying that “any room he walked into was made twice as funny and twice as clever just by his presence.”

“I am proud to say I knew him,” Radcliffe said.

Griffiths won a Tony Award for “The History Boys” and appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows. But he will be most widely remembered as a pair of contrasting uncles — Harry Potter's Uncle Vernon Dursley and Uncle Monty in cult film “Withnail and I.”

A huge stage presence — through charisma as well as obesity — Griffiths created roles including the charismatic teacher Hector at the emotional heart of Alan Bennett's school drama “The History Boys.” He won an Olivier Award for the part in London and a Tony for the Broadway run, and repeated his performance in the 2006 film adaptation.

He had parts in movies ranging from historical dramas “Chariots of Fire” and “Gandhi” to slapstick farce “The Naked Gun 2½.”

Known for his sense of humor, large store of rambling theatrical anecdotes and occasional bursts of temper, Griffiths was renowned for shaming audience members whose cell phones rang during play by stopping the performance and ordering the offender to leave.

Griffiths' last major stage role was in a West End production of Neil Simon's comedy “The Sunshine Boys” last year opposite Danny DeVito. The pair had been due to reprise their roles in Los Angeles later this year.

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