Richard Griffiths, Harry Potter Actor, Dies at 65

03/29/2013 at 10:05 AM EDT

Richard Griffiths Dies, Harry Potter Actor Was 65
Richard Griffiths (left) and Daniel Radcliffe
Andrew H. Walker/Getty
Richard Griffiths, the well-spoken, rotund presence perhaps best known for playing Muggle guardian Vernon Dursley in the Harry Potter series – and who costarred again with Daniel Radcliffe in the stage drama Equus – died Thursday from complications after heart surgery at University Hospital in Coventry, central England, his agent announced Friday. He was 65.

"Richard was by my side during two of the most important moments of my career. I was proud to know him," Radcliffe said in a statement to the BBC.

Griffiths also won a Tony in 2006 for playing slightly wayward teacher Douglas Hector in Alan Bennett's The History Boys and was the outlandish Uncle Monty in the 1987 cult movie Withnail and I.

Born in North Yorkshire to two deaf parents – he learned sign language to communicate with them – Griffiths quit school at 15 before returning to study drama, which led to his joining the Royal Shakespeare Company. In 1973, during a production of Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan, he met actress Heather Gibson.

They married in 1980, and she survives him.

Offstage he was every bit as colorful as he was on. "His anecdotes were legendary," said Sir Nicholas Hytner, director of the National Theatre, "They were, literally, endless. They would go on for hours, apparently without destination, constantly side-splitting."

Hytner added, according to the BBC, that Griffiths's sudden death would devastate his "army of friends."

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