Tributes have been paid to Richard Griffiths – remembered by many for playing Uncle Monty – a gay character in the 1987 cult British film Withnail and I.

The death of Griffiths, 65, who also starred in the Harry Potter films and The History Boys was announced on Friday.

Withnail and I, seen as a breakthrough film for actor Richard E Grant, featured Griffiths as a flamboyant uncle to Grant’s character of Withnail; an alcoholic, struggling actor.

Shot on a shoestring budget and with little plot to speak of, it was largely ignored when first released but is now regarded as a British classic.

In a message to his co-star on Twitter, Richard E Grant said: “My beloved Uncle Monty Richard Griffiths died last night. Chin-Chin my dear friend.”

Griffiths was born in Thornaby-on-Tees, North Yorkshire, and left school at 15 but later returned to education to study drama, before joining the Royal Shakespeare Company.

He married Heather Gibson in 1980 after they met during a production of Lady Windermere’s Fan in 1973.

Channel 4 News culture editor and Attitude columnist Matthew Cain tweeted: “RIP Richard Griffiths. I was lucky enough to see his brilliance in The History Boys + The Habit of Art – but very sad I won’t get to again.”

Along with Withnail and I, Griffiths received huge praise for his role as Hector, a teacher with a complex relationship with his male students, in the stage and film version of Alan Bennett’s The History Boys.

Sir Nicholas Hytner, director of the National Theatre, said: “Richard Griffiths wasn’t only one of the most loved and recognisable British actors – he was also one of the very greatest.

“His performance in The History Boys was quite overwhelming: a masterpiece of wit, delicacy, mischief and desolation, often simultaneously.

“His anecdotes were legendary. They were, literally, endless. They would go on for hours, apparently without destination, constantly side-splitting.”

Griffiths died of complications following heart surgery at the University Hospital of Coventry and Warwickshire. He was 65.