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‘Harry Potter’s Richard Griffiths’ ‘Weird Parents' Didn’t Overcome Tragedy before His Birth

Titi Dokubo
Oct 28, 2021
01:40 A.M.
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British actor Richard Griffiths, known worldwide for portraying Harry Potter's hateful uncle in the wizard movie saga, died of complications following heart surgery on March 28, 2013.

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Before his birth, his 'weird' parents, deaf and dumb, had suffered a tragedy that they never really recovered from. The event haunted and frightened his mother.

Despite their inability to hear and speak, coupled with their trauma, his parents always got into fights that sometimes became violent.

Richard Griffiths, Harry Melling, Fiona Shaw, and Daniel Radcliffe in a scene from "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" | Photo: Youtube.com/bloom

Richard Griffiths, Harry Melling, Fiona Shaw, and Daniel Radcliffe in a scene from "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" | Photo: Youtube.com/bloom

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ABOUT RICHARD GRIFFITHS

In the UK, he was a well-known actor, but in the rest of the world, his fame was mainly linked to the character of Vernon Dursley, who terrified his nephew Harry Potter in the films from JK Rowling's best sellers.

After a turbulent childhood in which he tried many times to run away from home, he decided to attend the theater class at Stockton & Billingham College.

Richard Griffiths at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards at The Dorchester on January 25, 2011 in London | Photo: Getty Images

Richard Griffiths at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards at The Dorchester on January 25, 2011 in London | Photo: Getty Images

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Funnily enough, he never wanted to be an actor but a painter. He decided to act because of disappointments he faced in art school. He was interested in Rembrandt, but others weren't.

Appearing in dozens of films and television series, he was one of the UK's foremost stage actors. He created memorable characters such as Professor Hector in Nicholas Hytner's dramatic "The History Boys," for which he won an Olivier Award.

In 2008, he was honored by Queen Elizabeth with an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). Griffiths starred in others such as "Gorky Park" (1983), "Withnail and I" (1987), "The Naked Gun 2+1⁄2: The Smell of Fear" (1991), and "Sleepy Hollow" (1999).

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Richard Griffiths accepting his award as winner of Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play for "The History Boys" at the 60th Tony Awards | Photo: Getty Images

Richard Griffiths accepting his award as winner of Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play for "The History Boys" at the 60th Tony Awards | Photo: Getty Images

He was also King George II in "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides." In 2007, he starred alongside Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe in the controversial play "Equus."

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But Griffiths owes much of his fame to the role of Harry Potter's hateful uncle, but the most observant will also remember him for the part of Inspector Henry Crabbe in the detective comedy "Pie in the Sky."

Richard Griffiths and Daniel Radcliffe during Equus Press Photocall - February 22, 2007 in London | Photo: Getty Images

Richard Griffiths and Daniel Radcliffe during Equus Press Photocall - February 22, 2007 in London | Photo: Getty Images

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For his role as Vernon Dursley, Harry Potter's wicked uncle, Griffiths was quite excited about taking on the part. In 2007, he said,

"I like playing Vernon Dursley in 'Harry Potter' because that gives me a license to be horrible to kids. I hate the odious business of sucking up to the public."

Even though his "Harry Potter" character was mean, he was seen as a philosopher clown who was always ready to make jokes and sometimes even hold up production so he could finish a joke.

Richard Griffiths at the 2005 Critics' Circle Theatre Awards | Photo: Getty Images

Richard Griffiths at the 2005 Critics' Circle Theatre Awards | Photo: Getty Images

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GRIFFITHS' CHILDHOOD AND GROWING UP

He had a grim childhood which he loathed. His parents were always fighting, and he described their marriage as violent. He revealed that he grew up in an atmosphere of fear, hunger, and debt. He said,

"I hated my childhood. It was loathsome. My parents were deaf and dumb. Profoundly so. They could make noises when they were emotionally aroused, but they couldn't form it into speech."

Early on, he had to learn that he wouldn't get anything if he didn't point at what he wanted. With time, he learned to speak properly. He also had to learn sign language to communicate with his parents.

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Richard Griffiths in his role as Henry Crabbe from the BBC television drama series 'Pie in the Sky' on December 6, 1995 | Photo: Getty Images

Richard Griffiths in his role as Henry Crabbe from the BBC television drama series 'Pie in the Sky' on December 6, 1995 | Photo: Getty Images

By the time he was four, he had to go everywhere with his parents and became their 'voice' by translating their sign language in shops. At four, he had to do chores and would go shopping for them.

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The issues between his parents started even before he was born. They had given birth to his elder sister, who died one week later in unexplained circumstances.

His mother had claimed that she slept with the baby in her arms, and a nurse must have taken the baby while she was asleep and dropped the baby on the floor.

Richard Griffiths in his role as Henry Crabbe from the BBC television drama series 'Pie in the Sky' in 1997 | Photo: Getty Images

Richard Griffiths in his role as Henry Crabbe from the BBC television drama series 'Pie in the Sky' in 1997 | Photo: Getty Images

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This crushed the baby's head, and his father never believed his mother's claim. Their grief got worse after they had two miscarriages and two more infant deaths after Griffiths was born.

These happenings made his parents dread hospitals. His father drank heavily and never earned enough to feed the family.

According to him, the experience turned his mother into a haunted, frightened rabbit. Her dread for hospitals resulted in her early death because she couldn't bring herself to go to the hospital when she was ill.

Richard Griffiths in his role as Uncle Monty in the movie 'Withnail & I' in 1986 | Photo: Getty Images

Richard Griffiths in his role as Uncle Monty in the movie 'Withnail & I' in 1986 | Photo: Getty Images

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The debts his father left behind motivated him never to borrow money, and for him, this meant never using a credit card.

His father got him a job as a steelworker, but he rejected it and decided to act. Unfortunately, his parents never lived to see him act in his first film.

Richard Griffiths at the 51sth Annual Drama Desk Awards | Photo: Getty Images

Richard Griffiths at the 51sth Annual Drama Desk Awards | Photo: Getty Images

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After training as an actor at the Manchester Polytechnic School of Drama, he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company at the request of the artistic director Trevor Nunn in 1975.

He lost his parents at the end of 1976. Despite his tough upbringing, he believed that his father taught him things about body language that psychologists didn't know at the time.

His father had studied him so well that he always knew when he was lying because Griffiths' posture was always wrong.

Richard Griffiths at the AFI Fest 2006 in Los Angeles | Photo: Getty Images

Richard Griffiths at the AFI Fest 2006 in Los Angeles | Photo: Getty Images

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GRIFFITHS' WEIGHT

Being chubby, he had always hated the way he looked, which was not made easier by people picking on him. He revealed,

"I was big and fat and had weird parents. I had a difficult time because my dad was physically a marvelous specimen, and he was fierce. And I wasn't because I was too chubby."

He may have hated his looks, but he never complained about his brains. His love of language, accents, and loquacity made him one of Britain's great actors.

Richard Griffiths and Emilia Fox in Katherine Howard in 1998 | Photo: Getty Images

Richard Griffiths and Emilia Fox in Katherine Howard in 1998 | Photo: Getty Images

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Despite his size, Griffiths was never a big eater. As a boy, he was dreadfully thin until his GP recommended radiation therapy to alter his metabolism to gain weight.

The treatment permanently damaged his pituitary gland, and so his weight ballooned. He struggled to diet, but his cigarette habits didn't help him with his weight.

He met his wife, Heather Gibson, in 1973 during a production of Lady Windermere's Fan, and in 1980, they were married. They had no children and were together till the time of his death.

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