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Acting legend Dame Diana Rigg dies aged 82 


James Bond actress and Game of Thrones star Dame Diana Rigg has died today at the age of 82 following a short battle with cancer.  

The British actress made her name in the cult 1961 TV series The Avengers, before going on to star as the cutthroat matriarch Lady Olenna Tyrell in HBO’s Game of Thrones.

More recently, Rigg appeared as the eccentric Mrs Pumphrey in the 2020 adaptation of All Creatures Great and Small – which aired last night on Channel 5. 

The star, who won Bafta, Emmy and Tony awards, also earned worldwide acclaim for her turn as a Bond girl in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969. 

In the movie, she became only the second Bond girl to marry 007.  

Last year, Dame Diana, who was made a dame in 1994 for services to drama, revealed that she ‘suffered a Me Too moment’ early in her career at the hands of a ‘powerful’ film director.

Speaking on Newsnight, the actress said she welcomed the rise of the #MeToo movement in recent years, following her own experience as a young actress.

She also spoke about how she felt like a ‘lone voice’ after she discovered she was being paid less than her male co-stars.

Dame Diana, who had a long career both in film and on stage, died peacefully at home with her family, her agent Simon Beresford confirmed. Her daughter, Rachael Stirling, said she died of cancer that was diagnosed in March.

Her co stars have flooded social media with tributes to the ‘Flinty, fearless, fabulous force of nature’ with a ‘dazzling wit and inimitable voice.’ The League Of Gentlemen’s Mark Gatiss said simply, ‘there will never be another’. 

Diana Rigg as the cutthroat matriarch Oleanna Tyrell in HBO’s worldwide hit series, Game of Thrones

Rigg and her co star George Lazenby in the 1969 James Bond movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Rigg starring alongside co-star Patrick Mcnee in the original TV hit series, The Avengers in 1966

Rigg at the 72nd Annual Tony Awards in New York in June 2018 (left) and receiving the Icon Award at the Cannes International Series Festival in 2019

Rigg became the second Bond girl to marry 007 when she starred in James Bond ‘s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969

As Mrs Peel in ‘A Touch of Brimstone’, the 21st episode of the fourth series of the 1960s cult British spy-fi television series The Avengers, Rigg donned a risqué ‘Queen of Sin’ costume – which she designed herself

Dame Diana Rigg as Mrs Pumphrey, with Tricki Woo in the recent adaptation of All Creatures Great and Small, from James Herriot’s collection of stories about life as a Yorkshire vet

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: Diana Rigg and George Lazenby in the 1969 James Bond movie

The British actress made her name in hit TV shows including The Avengers, pictured here in 1967 

Mark Gatiss tweeted: ‘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. RIP’.

Bafta has also paid tribute to Diana Rigg. The British charity said on Twitter: ‘We’re sad to hear of the passing of Dame Diana Rigg, Bafta-winner for her performance in Mother Love in 1990 and joint recipient of the Bafta Television Special Award in 2000 for The Avengers.’

The actress’s agent Simon Beresford said: ‘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. Dame Diana was an icon of theatre, film, and television.

‘She was the recipient of Bafta, Emmy, Tony and Evening Standard Awards for her work on stage and screen.

‘Dame Diana was a much loved and admired member of her profession, a force of nature who loved her work and her fellow actors. She will be greatly missed.’

Playwright Sir David Hare said: ‘Diana Rigg had a dazzling change of direction in middle age as a great classical actor.

‘When Emma Peel played Euripides’ Medea, Albee’s Martha and Brecht’s Mother Courage she swept all before her.’

Playwright Sir Tom Stoppard added: ‘For half her life Diana was the most beautiful woman in the room, but she was what used to be called a trooper.

‘She went to work with her sleeves rolled up and a smile for everyone. Her talent was luminous.’

Theatre director 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, Phedre – in Ted Hughes’ 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.’

John Bradley, who starred in Game of Thrones alongside Diana Rigg, said the actress was ‘just wonderful’.

Posting a tribute to the actress on Twitter, he said: ‘Diana Rigg was just wonderful. But you all knew that already. Everybody did. Very sad news.’

Afterlife actor Tony Way tweeted: ‘A true icon. I met her a couple of times on Game of Thrones. I played Backgammon with her once. She called me a c**t for beating her. She was fantastic.’ 

Dame Diana Rigg and Sean Connery at the 1996 Evening Standard Drama Awards at the Savoy Hotel in London

Dame Diana Rigg meeting the Queen at the Royal Festival Hall after attending a Royal Gala Concert in 1997 to mark her Majesty’s Golden Wedding Anniversary

Rigg with her 17-year-old daughter Rachael, at Buckingham Palace where she was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire

In the 1969 movie, Contessa Teresa ‘Tracy’ Draco – played by Rigg – became only the second Bond girl to marry 007

Rigg at the Garrick Theatre in London in 2011 (left) and with her honourary degree from the South Bank University at Southwark Cathedral

Rigg looking fabulous as she posed on the pink carpet before the opening ceremony of the Cannes Series Festival in April 2019

Speaking on Newsnight in 2019, Diana Rigg revealed that she ‘suffered a Me Too moment’ early in her career at the hands of a ‘powerful’ film director

Speaking to the BBC in 2019, Dame Diana – who played the Tyrell matriarch Olenna in Game Of Thrones – said: ‘I had one experience, which I’m not about to talk about but when I was very young, with a director who was very powerful.

‘I simply, hardly acknowledged it was happening. I think scorn is quite a powerful tool. I would urge women to use scorn whenever possible, because it sort of scorches the gentleman.’

‘I’m all for the women who speak out, and I’m very glad that they now have a platform to speak out.’

During her time on the Avengers – when she played Emma Peel from 1965 to 1968 – the star was stunned to discover that she was being paid significantly less than her male co-stars, and threatened to quit unless producers gave her a pay rise. 

Bosses on the show obliged, thanks to the show’s incredible following in America. 

She added: ‘I was a lone voice in the wilderness, nobody backed me up. Pat Macnee kept his head well below the parapet when I stepped forward and said ”I think it’s quite wrong that I’m being paid less than the cameraman.”

‘Of course then I was painted as this sort of mercenary woman, and hard headed and money grabbing and all the rest of it. But it struck me as being unfair so I spoke out.

‘I’ve always thought that equal pay gets you a long way to being treated equally by a man.’ 

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