Vaughan's acting career spans over six decades starting in 1954 with Foretop on Stage by Stage to roles in Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, Treasure Island, Porridge, Citizen Smith, Brazil, War and Remembrance, and The Remains of the Day.
He received a Bafta nomination for his portrayal of the dementia-suffering Felix Hutchingson, opposite of Christopher Eccelston, Mark Strong and Daniel Craig in Our Friends in the North.
From 2011 to 2015, Vaughan appeared as Maester Aemon Targaryen in the HBO series Game of Thrones. His character was part of the storyline with the Night's Watch and Castle Black, appearing in the first, third, fourth and fifth seasons of the series. He is one of the few characters to pass because of age in the series.
According to his agent Sally Long-Innes, Vaughan passed peacefully in his sleep with his family around him.