Withnail & I star Richard Griffiths dies, aged 65

The actor was known for the cult British film, as well as roles in The History Boys and the Harry Potter movies - but the greatest role he never played was Doctor Who

Richard Griffiths, the well-loved star of films including cult hit Withnail & I, Alan Bennett’s The History Boys and the Harry Potter movies, has died aged 65. He passed away as a result of complications following heart surgery.


Griffiths is perhaps best known as the lecherous but ultimately tragic Uncle Monty in 1986 British black comedy Withnail & I, and as another gay – and equally libidinous – character, schoolteacher Douglas Hector, in Alan Bennett’s stage play The History Boys, a role which won him Laurence Olivier and Tony awards, and which he reprised in the 2006 film adaptation. 

Griffiths is recognised by a new generation as Harry Potter’s cruel uncle Vernon Dursley in the movie adaptations of JK Rowling’s books, while older viewers will remember him as Henry Crabbe, a police detective inspector who is also a head chef, in BBC1 series Pie in the Sky, which aired between 1994 and 1997.

Other recent screen roles include King George II in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and in BBC2 sitcom Episodes, while his voice – as warm and distinctive as his character – was widely heard performing narration and voiceover duties. Griffiths last appeared on stage opposite Danny DeVito in a West End revival of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys.

Perhaps the biggest role Griffiths never played was as the star of Doctor Who. He was shortlisted to replace Tom Baker as the Time Lord’s fifth incarnation and was among the favourites to follow Sylvester McCoy’s seventh Doctor in 1990, before the show was cancelled.

Coincidentally, both of Griffiths’s Withnail co-stars did go on to play the Time Lord in some capacity – Paul McGann was the eventual eighth Doctor in the 1996 TV movie, while Richard E Grant made a brief appearance in the role for a Red Nose Day skit and voiced the part in an animated webcast. 

Born in North Yorkshire, Griffiths was the son of two deaf parents, and learnt sign language at an early age. He studied drama at the Manchester Polytechnic School of Drama, now the Manchester School of Theatre. In 2008, he was made an OBE for services to drama.

Griffiths died after undergoing heart surgery at the University Hospital of Coventry and Warwickshire. He leaves behind his wife Heather Gibson.


Daniel Radcliffe and Richard E Grant pay tribute to Richard Griffiths