Years before Marvel Comics debuted their superhero team. The United Kingdom was already host to their own version of The Avengers. An espionage series in the vein of classic James Bond. Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg played John Steed and Emma Peel, two secret agents dressed to the nines who dealt with a variety of British bad guys. Patrick Macnee passed away back in 2015. And now he’s joined by his partner in espionage as Diana Rigg has passed away at age 82.
Diana Rigg was more recently known for her supporting role as Lady Olenna Tyrell on Game of Thrones, a role which earned her Emmy nominations as a guest actress three years in a row. But long before that, she already had a decorated and eclectic career on both the big and small screens, as well as the stage.
The BBC confirmed the passing of Diana Rigg today with her agent, who told the news outlet: “It is with tremendous sadness that we announce that Dame Diana Rigg died peacefully early this morning. She was at home with her family who have asked for privacy at this difficult time.”
Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg was born in Doncaster, Yorkshire, England in 1938. After spending her childhood in India, Rigg trained as an actress at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art from 1959 to 1964. Though she had ample stage experience during this time, her presence on television wasn’t nearly as prominent, but that didn’t stop her from landing the role of Emma Peel in The Avengers in 1965.
As Emma Peel on The Avengers, Diana Rigg was clever and titillating, frequently seen wearing a catsuit during her espionage exploits. Though fellow Avengers agent John Steed was paired with many female agents during the show’s run, Rigg’s turn as Mrs. Peel in 51 episodes of the series from 1965 through 1968 was easily the audience favorite. It also earned her two Emmy nominations and a special BAFTA Award that she shared with fellow female agents Honor Blackman, Joanna Lumley and Linda Thorson.
Rigg earned even more secret agent fame in 1969 when she played Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The character was the first “Bond girl” in the history of the 007 franchise to actually marry James Bond. And she’s largely considered to be one of the most beloved characters in the secret agent’s history.
Some of Rigg’s other famous film roles include A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1968), The Assassination Bureau (1969), Julius Caesar (1970), The Hospital (1971), Vincent Price’s Theatre of Blood (1973), A Little Night Music (1977), The Great Muppet Caper (1981), A Good Man in Africa (1994) and The Painted Veil (2006).
Rigg also kept active on television, including her own sitcom Diana from 1973-1974. A hosting stint on Masterpiece Mystery from 1989 through 2004. And a role in Masterpiece Theatre: Bleak House in 1985. She also won an Emmy n 1997 for her role as Mrs. Danvers in a UK miniseries adaptation of Rebecca.. More recently, she could be seen on TV shows such as Extras, You, Me and the Apocalypse, Detectorists, and Victoria.
Despite all of her work on the big and small screen, Rigg also worked endlessly on the stage. She was seen on Broadway in Abelard and Heloise in 1971, The Misanthrope in 1975, and Medea in 1994. All of these roles earned her a Tony nomination, and the latter resulted in a win. Rigg also starred in stage versions of King Lear, Twelfth Night, Pygmalion, Collette, Follies, Mother Courage, Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf, Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly, Last Summer, The Cherry Orchard. And a stage adaptation of Pedro Almodovar’s All About My Mother. And that’s just a handful of the work she did on stage over the years.
The career of Diana Rigg is a memorable one, and she had the most fun playing unlikable characters. After Game of Thrones came to an end. She looked back on her role as Lady Olenna Tyrell on the HBO series and told BBC. “There are some actors who don’t like to play bad; they like to be like. I love to be dislike”. Thankfully, she was so good at being bad that fans absolutely loved her turn on the fantasy series. It’s just one role in a long line of incredible work that Diana Rigg left with us.