Diana Rigg of James Bond, Game Of Thrones dies at 82

British actress Diana Rigg died of cancer on Thursday.
British actress Diana Rigg died of cancer on Thursday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • British actress Diana Rigg, who enthralled London and New York theatre audiences with her performances in classic roles for more than half a century, but remained best known as the quintessential "new woman" of the 1960s - sexy, confident, witty and karate-adept - on the television series The Avengers (1961 to 1969), died on Thursday at her home in London. She was 82.

Her daughter, Rachael Stirling, said in a statement that the cause was cancer.

Rigg had late-career success in a recurring role from 2013 to 2016 as the outspoken and demanding Lady Olenna Tyrell on HBO's acclaimed series Game Of Thrones (2011 to last year).

But her first and biggest taste of stardom came in 1965, when, as a 26-year-old veteran of the Royal Shakespeare Company, she was cast in the fourth season of British network ITV's The Avengers.

As Emma Peel, she was the stylish crime-fighting partner of intelligence agent John Steed (Patrick Macnee), replacing Honor Blackman, who had left to star in the James Bond film Goldfinger (1964). Blackman died in April.

Although Mrs Peel, as Steed addressed her, was on the show relatively briefly, she quickly became the star attraction, especially when The Avengers was first broadcast in the United States in 1966.

Rigg left the show in 1967 for a luminous career in feature films. Her other roles included Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1968) and Portia in an all-star version of Julius Caesar (1970).

But it was for an action role that she received the greatest attention, when she played a crime boss' daughter in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), the only Bond film to star George Lazenby.

Her character had the distinction among Agent 007's movie love interests of actually marrying Bond, but she was killed off in the final scene for the sake of future plot lines.

Wherever Rigg went, honours seemed to follow. She received the 1994 Tony Award for best actress in a play for her performance in the title role of Medea.

In London, though, she had already received the Evening Standard Theatre Award for the same role - an honour she received again in 1996 for American playwright Edward Albee's Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf as well as German playwright Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage And Her Children.

Rigg never won the Olivier Award - London's Tony equivalent - but was nominated thrice: for Mother Courage (1996), Virginia Woolf (1997) and Britannicus/Phedre (1999).

Her most notable British screen award was a 1990 Best Actress honour from Bafta, the British film and television academy, for Mother Love (1989), a BBC miniseries in which she played a murderously possessive parent.

From 1967 to 2018, she was nominated for nine Emmy Awards, including four for Game Of Thrones. She won in 1997 as Best Supporting Actress in a miniseries or special for her role in a British-German production of Rebecca (1997), based on the Daphne du Maurier novel of the same name.

Born Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg on July 20, 1938, in Doncaster, Yorkshire, she was the daughter of a railroad engineer who soon moved his family to India for a job with the national railway.

She returned to England when she was eight to attend boarding school and remained in the country to complete her education.

Rigg entered the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art at 17 and made her professional debut two years later, in 1957, in Brecht's drama The Caucasian Chalk Circle.

As a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company (1959 to 1964), she began in minor parts and advanced to meatier ones, including Lady Macduff in Macbeth and Bianca in The Taming Of The Shrew.

Rigg was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1988 and a Dame Commander in 1994.

Both of her marriages - to Menachem Gueffen, an Israeli artist (1973 to 1976), and to Archibald Sterling, a Scottish businessman and theatre producer (1982 to 1990) - ended in divorce.

Rachael, Rigg's surviving daughter from her second marriage, is also an actress. Rigg is also survived by a grandson.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2020, with the headline 'Diana Rigg of James Bond, Game Of Thrones dies at 82'. Subscribe