Diana Rigg, Avengers and Game of Thrones star, dies aged 82

Actor who played Emma Peel in hit spy series and James Bond’s only wife was diagnosed with cancer in March

The actor Diana Rigg, known for her roles on stage and in film and television – including The Avengers and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – has died at the age of 82.

Rigg, who rose to prominence in the 1960s through her starring role as Emma Peel in The Avengers alongside Patrick Macnee, enjoyed a long and varied career, playing Lady Olenna Tyrell in HBO’s smash hit Game of Thrones, a show she admitted in 2019 that she had never watched. She also played Countess Teresa di Vicenzo, or Tracy Bond, James Bond’s first and only wife to date, in the 1969 film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Confirming her death, her agent said that Rigg had died “peacefully” on Thursday morning, adding that she had been “at home with her family who have asked for privacy at this difficult time”.

Her daughter, the actor Rachael Stirling, said Rigg had been diagnosed with cancer in March, and had “spent her last months joyfully reflecting on her extraordinary life, full of love, laughter and a deep pride in her profession. I will miss her beyond words.”

The pair appeared together in the Doctor Who episode The Crimson Horror in 2013. The episode’s writer, Mark Gatiss, tweeted a tribute, saying: “It was my great joy and privilege to have known Diana Rigg. From three slightly hysterical months at the Old Vic in All About Mother to writing The Crimson Horror for Diana and her wonderful daughter Rachael. Flinty, fearless, fabulous. There will never be another.”

Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg was born near Doncaster in 1938. She spent part of her childhood in India, where her father worked as a railway executive. After attending boarding school in Pudsey, Yorkshire, Rigg trained at Rada alongside Glenda Jackson and Siân Phillips.

Prior to The Avengers, she enjoyed a successful theatre career performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company; she would later return to the stage to perform in productions including Tom Stoppard’s plays Jumpers and Night and Day. On Broadway, she earned two Tony nominations in the 1970s, and in 1992 she won the award in the titular role of Medea, which she played in the West End and on Broadway.

To many, however, she is best known as Emma Peel in The Avengers, having appeared in 51 episodes of the hit spy series between 1965 and 1968. In a 2019 interview with the Guardian, she said that becoming a sex symbol overnight had shocked her, adding that she “didn’t know how to handle it”, and kept unopened fan mail in the boot of her car “because I didn’t know how to respond and thought it was rude to throw it away. Then my mother became my secretary and replied to the really inappropriate ones saying: ‘My daughter’s far too old for you. Go take a cold shower!’”

After finding out that she was being paid less than the cameraman on the series, Rigg fought for greater pay, saying in 2019: “I was painted as this mercenary creature by the press [for fighting against the pay disparity on the series] when all I wanted was equality. It’s so depressing that we are still talking about the gender pay gap.”

Her other TV roles included the part of the Duchess of Buccleuch in ITV’s Victoria. Rigg won the Bafta TV award for best actress for the BBC miniseries Mother Love in 1989, and an Emmy for her role as Mrs Danvers in an adaptation of Rebecca (1997).

Leading the tributes, Stoppard said: “For half her life, Diana was the most beautiful woman in the room, but she was what used to be called a trouper. She went to work with her sleeves rolled up and a smile for everyone. Her talent was luminous.”

Her director in Medea, Jonathan Kent, said: “Diana Rigg’s combination of force of personality, beauty, courage and sheer emotional power, made her a great classical actress – one of an astonishing generation of British stage performers.

“I was so fortunate to direct her in a series of great classical roles: Medea, Phèdre – in Ted Hughes’s version, specially written for her – Mother Courage and Dryden’s Cleopatra. Her dazzling wit and that inimitable voice made her an unforgettable leading figure in British theatre.”

Natalie Dormer, who played her granddaughter Margaery Tyrell in Game of Thrones, said: “It was a great privilege to work with an actor of such talent, range and experience. Diana was an inspiring force with a wicked sense of humour and sharp intellect. I am grateful for the times I shared either a screen or a bottle of champagne with her.”

Rigg also appears in Channel 5’s hit remake of All Creatures Great and Small, which is currently airing. She will be seen in the BBC drama Black Narcissus later this year, and Edgar Wright’s film Last Night in Soho next year, her final role.

• This article was amended on 10 September 2020. An earlier version stated that Rigg and Rachael Stirling appeared on screen together only once, in a Doctor Who episode. This statement has been removed.


Hannah J Davies

The GuardianTramp

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