Diana Rigg: Bond, Avengers and Game Of Thrones star dies aged 82

10 September 2020, 14:39 | Updated: 10 September 2020, 21:15

Tributes are being paid to "icon" Dame Diana Rigg, a Bond actress and star of The Avengers and Game Of Thrones, who has died at the age of 82.

The award-winning actress died of cancer, which had been diagnosed in March, surrounded by her family on Thursday morning.

Best known as secret agent Emma Peel in The Avengers in the 1960s, and more recently for playing Olenna Tyrell in Game Of Thrones, Rigg was a star of stage and screen whose career spanned several decades.

She also played Countess Teresa di Vicenzo, also known as Tracy Bond - the only woman to get 007 to the altar - in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, alongside George Lazenby.

Paying tribute to her "beloved Ma", her daughter, Rachael Stirling, said the actress "spent her last months joyfully reflecting on her extraordinary life, full of love, laughter and a deep pride in her profession".

She added: "I will miss her beyond words."

Rigg's agent, Simon Beresford, announced the news "with tremendous sadness" in a statement describing the star as "an icon of theatre, film, and television".

He said: "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."

Born Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg in Doncaster on 20 July 1938, Rigg went on to train at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and joined the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1959.

She had smaller roles on screen before her break came in The Avengers, in which she starred alongside Patrick McNee's John Steed; together they formed an impeccably dressed duo who fought crime and traded quips.

In Game Of Thrones, her biggest role in recent years, the actress played the witty and sarcastic Tyrell matriarch, a political mastermind popularly known as the Queen of Thorns, from 2013 to 2017.

Her many film credits included The Hospital, A Midsummer Night's Dream, A Little Night Music, Evil Under The Sun and A Good Man In Africa.

She also played the Duchess of Buccleuch in Victoria and Mrs Danvers in Rebecca, and starred alongside her daughter in the sitcom Detectorists, from 2015 to 2017.

In fact, Rigg was still working in recent years, with a role in this year's All Creatures Great And Small TV series and a film and a TV series due out next year.

Playwrights Sir David Hare and Sir Tom Stoppard are among those paying tribute, with Sir Tom saying: "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, who directed the actress in several roles, 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."

In a statement on social media, Lazenby said Rigg "raised my acting game" when he starred with her in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and offered his condolences to her family.

The Macmillan Cancer Support charity also paid tribute, thanking the star for "years of enduring support".

Broadcaster Gyles Brandreth described her as "funny, feisty, beautiful, intelligent and gifted" and said that "a whole generation fell for her" when she appeared on screen in The Avengers.

During her time in the series, Rigg became unhappy about the intrusion that came with fame, and she was also critical of the way she was treated by TV bosses - especially after discovering that she was being paid less than a cameraman.

"It was very, very intrusive in those days, because I was instantly recognisable," she later told Variety.

"I was grateful to be a success, but there was a price to pay."

In the 1970s, the actress joined the National Theatre, where she played major roles in Stoppard's Jumpers, The Misanthrope, Pygmalion, Antony And Cleopatra and Stephen Sondheim's Follies.

In a nude scene she played in Abelard And Heloise, she was described by one critic as being "built like a brick mausoleum with insufficient flying buttresses" - which led to her producing the best-selling book of the worst-ever theatrical reviews, entitled No Turn Unstoned.

In 2019, Rigg revealed she had suffered a Me Too moment early in her career at the hands of a "powerful" film director, but did not say who.

She said she welcomed the emergence of the movement as a means for women to speak out and urged anyone put in a similar position to pour their "scorn" on would-be abusers.

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Rigg was married to the Israeli painter Menachem Gueffen from 1973 to 1976, and later to Archibald Stirling, a theatrical producer and former officer in the Scots Guards.

She is survived by her daughter, son-in-law Guy Garvey - lead singer of the band Elbow - and a grandson, Jack.