Griffiths also played poet W.H. Auden in Bennett's "The Habit of Art," a hugely persuasive performance despite the lack of physical resemblance between the two men.
Griffiths was born in northeast England's Thornaby-on-Tees in 1947 to parents who were deaf and mute — an experience he and his directors felt contributed to his exceptional ability to listen and to communicate physically.
"The first language he learned was sign. And therefore his ability to listen to people with his eyes as well as his ears is incredible," Thea Sharrock, who directed "Equus," told The Associated Press in 2008.
Griffiths left school at 15 but later studied drama and spent a decade with the Royal Shakespeare Company, making a specialty of comic parts such as the buffoonish knight Falstaff.
On television, he played a crime-solving chef in 1990s' British TV series "Pie in the Sky," and he had parts in movies ranging from historical dramas "Chariots of Fire" and "Gandhi" to slapstick farce "The Naked Gun 2 ½."
Known for his sense of humor, large store of rambling theatrical anecdotes and occasional bursts of temper, Griffiths was renowned for shaming audience members whose cell phones rang during plays by stopping the performance and ordering the offender to leave.
Griffiths' last major stage role was in a West End production of Neil Simon's comedy "The Sunshine Boys" last year opposite Danny DeVito. The pair had been due to reprise their roles in Los Angeles later this year.
Theater director Trevor Nunn, who as head of the Royal Shakespeare Company was one of the first to spot Griffiths' talent, said he was "an actor of rare emotional and indeed tragic power."
"Richard inspired great love and spread much happiness, and as the Shakespeare he loved put it, 'There's a great spirit gone,'" Nunn said.
Griffiths is survived by his wife, Heather Gibson.
Jill Lawless can be reached at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless