Perhaps best known for his role as Vernon Dursley in the Harry Potter films, the award-winning Richard Griffiths should also be recognized as a member of the UK deaf community. He was born in Thornaby-on-Tees, a town in North Riding of Yorkshire, England. Both his parents, Jane and Thomas Griffiths, were deaf and the family used British Sign Language (BSL) in the home. In an interview with The Limping Chicken, a UK deaf news source, Richard discussed his upbringing; “He said that as a child, he thought everyone’s parents were deaf until he went to school. It was only there that he realized other children’s parents were hearing, and that there was anything different about his own family. Until then, deafness, and communicating in sign language had been the norm to him.”
Richard’s childhood was filled with tragedy. His parents struggled to have children after his birth and after many tumultuous hospital visits, his mother grew averse to doctors. In an interview with Daily Mail he stated, “My mother turned into a haunted, frightened rabbit,’ he said. ‘She died early because she couldn’t bring herself to go to the hospital when she was ill.’’ His father worked as a construction worker to make ends meet but the family often struggled to get by. Richard struggled in school and dropped out at 15. After trying several different careers, Richard was drawn to performing. He took an acting class at the Manchester Polytechnic School of Drama (now known as Manchester Metropolitan University) and discovered his passion and soon began working in both radio and theatre.
Richard began his performing career in radio in the Mr. Finchley series. From radio, he moved on to theater, working with the Royal Shakespeare Company. His contributions to the drama were recognized in 2008 by receiving the title of Officers of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).
In 1987 Richard broke onto the movie scene playing the role of Uncle Monty in Withnail and I. He is probably most remembered by adults for his role as Hector in The History Boys in which he won a Tony award and by children as Uncle Vernon Dursley in the Harry Potter series. He also appeared in the films Pie in the Sky, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and Gandhi.. He was a skilled actor on stage, film, and television and well-known for his mastery of dialects.
Through out his success, Griffiths maintained a connection to the deaf community as a supporter of Deaffest, a film and arts festival in the United Kingdom. In 2012, he was featured in an interview with the organization using BSL to provide an encouraging message to deaf actors and filmmakers. The following year at age 65, Griffiths died of heart surgery complications. He is survived by his longtime wife Heather Gibson. Harry Potter co-star Daniel Radcliffe reflected on his time on set with Richard, “Richard was by my side during two of the most important moments of my career. I was proud to know him. Any room he walked into was made twice as funny and twice as clever just by his presence.”