British actor Diana Rigg dies aged 82

James Bond and Avengers actor Diana Rigg has died peacefully at home.
James Bond and Avengers actor Diana Rigg has died peacefully at home.

Diana Rigg, who splashed into the world of television with her commanding turn as agent Emma Peel on The Avengers in the 1960s and played Lady Olenna Tyrell on Game of Thrones decades later, has died at her home in England aged 82.

The Tony and Emmy winner was a venerable figure in Britain's entertainment industry who worked incessantly on stage, TV and film. She famously thumbed her nose at convention in her private life and in later years seemed to enjoy her status as a grande dame.

"She was a beautiful kind and generous human being that enhanced the lives of all that knew her as well as a great actress. She leaves a great void in my heart," said Lionel Larner, Rigg's longtime friend and talent agent.

Having a key role in the biggest TV series of the past decade was a fitting career capper for Rigg.

On HBO's Game of Thrones, Rigg recurred as Olenna Tyrell, also known as the Queen of Thorns, beginning with the third season in 2013. She was Emmy nominated for guest actress in a drama for her work on the show in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Rigg also made a number of notable appearances on the big screen. She played a significant role in the history of the James Bond film franchise by portraying, with great elan, Tracy Di Vicenzo, the woman whom Bond, played by George Lazenby, marries with great joy in 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service, only to see her murdered by the minions of arch villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

On ITV's The Avengers, the British espionage series that blended sci-fi, fantasy and surreal elements with caper stories and offbeat humour, Rigg's intelligent, witty and catsuit-wearing Mrs Peel was by far the most memorable.

In the TV show - which starred Patrick Macnee from 1961-1969 as bowler hat-bedecked John Steed - the actress appeared in 51 episodes of the series from 1965-68, and was twice Emmy nominated for her work, in 1967 and 1968.

In 2000, she shared a special BAFTA Award with Honor Blackman, Joanna Lumley and Linda Thorson, who had all appeared opposite Macnee's Steed in The Avengers.

More recently Rigg appeared in BSkyB and NBC's You, Me and the Apocalypse in 2016 and guested on the BBC/HBO's Extras in 2006 and on Dr. Who in 2013. She played Mrs Higgins in the 2018 Broadway production of My Fair Lady.

In between, she won an Emmy for playing Mrs Danvers in a TV adaptation of Rebecca in 1997. She also received an Emmy nomination in 1975 for lead actress in a special program for In This House of Brede, in which she played a London businesswoman who opts to become a nun, and in 2002 for supporting actress in a miniseries or movie for Victoria & Albert.

Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg was born in Doncaster, Yorkshire, England; she spent her early childhood in India. She did her training as an actress at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art from 1955-57, and made her professional stage debut in Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle in 1957.

Rigg was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company from 1959-64, touring Europe and the US as Cordelia in a RSC production of King Lear ; she was also Viola in a 1966 RSC staging of Twelfth Night.

Rigg appeared on Broadway four times, earning a Tony nomination each time, winning for Medea.

Rigg had her own sitcom vehicle, NBC's Diana, in 1973-74 and later hosted PBS' Masterpiece Mystery from 1989-2004.

During the 1960s Rigg lived for eight years with actor-director Philip Saville, who was both older and otherwise married; she caused some scandal in the British tabloids when she proclaimed no interest in marrying Saville, saying she had no desire "to be respectable."

She married Israeli painter Menachem Gueffen in 1973, but the couple divorced three years later.

She was married to theatrical producer Archibald Stirling from 1982 until their divorce in 1990; they broke up when Stirling had an affair with actress Joely Richardson.

Rigg is survived by a daughter she had with Stirling, actress Rachael Stirling.

Australian Associated Press