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To his friends and family, Richard LaVon Griffiths was a loving, hard-working truckdriver from Beaver.
To the Sundance Film Festival audiences who saw him in Salt Lake City filmmaker Trent Harris' "Beaver Trilogy," Griffiths was an acting talent with a personality so eccentric, honest and charming, he became a cult-film figure.
Griffiths, also known as "The Beaver Kid" and "Groovin' Gary," passed away Feb. 2 at Salt Lake City's Intermountain Medical Center. He was 50 years old.
"He was a force of nature. You could not not pay attention to this guy," Harris said. "He wouldn't stop, and you could not stop him. That's what I loved about him."
Born in Cedar City in 1958, Griffiths graduated from Beaver High School, later working for Union Pacific Railroad, and then his own electronics business in Beaver. He worked the last 14 years of his life as a truck driver for Circle 4 Farms.
Griffiths and Harris first met in the parking lot of KUTV Channel 2, where Harris worked in 1979. Griffiths was taking photographs of the television station's helicopter, while Harris was outside in the lot learning to use a new video camera recorder. Their first meeting also marked the first time Harris filmed Griffiths, Harris said. A video clip of their meeting, available online at Youtube.com, shows Griffiths walking across the parking lot to show Harris his 1967 Chevy, which he had named "Farrah" and had adorned with shag carpet on the dashboard.
Harris said he was drawn to Griffiths' honest unabashed enthusiasm for all things he loved, including his impersonations of singers Barry Manilow and Olivia Newton-John. The latter formed the center of Harris' "Beaver Trilogy" film, which he made with Griffiths, and also included scenes of actors Sean Penn and Crispin Glover -- before they became famous -- re-creating Griffiths' earnest performance as Newton-John.
Despite screenings at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, at New York's Lincoln Center and several art galleries, "Beaver Trilogy" never received a commercial release. London's The Guardian newspaper named it No. 12 in its 2006 list of "50 Lost Movie Classics," calling it a "small-town tale of an Olivia Newton-John obsessive who aspires to perform like her at the local talent show. It's 'Stars in Their Eyes' as directed by Andy Warhol. Hilarious."
"At first audiences would laugh, then later swallow their laughter, because they realized he was for real," Harris said. "I've gotten messages from people all over the world [since Griffiths' death]. I don't know if he realized just how much he touched people."
Harris said he hoped to make at least one more film starring Griffiths, this time as a bartender in a film with the working title "Last Night at Sweety Poops."
According to an obituary published in St. George's The Spectrum, Griffiths is survived by his mother, Wanda Jane Yardley, three sisters, two grandchildren, his wife and stepdaughter, plus his dog, Whiskers. Funeral services will be Feb. 6 at noon at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chapel in Minersville.