Diana Rigg

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Diana Rigg
Diana Rigg 1973 Cropped.jpg
Rigg in Diana in 1973
BornEnid Diana Elizabeth Rigg
July 20 1938(1938-07-20)
Doncaster, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
DiedSeptember 10 2020 (aged 82)
London, England
Spouse(s)Menachem Gueffen
(m. 1973; div. 1976)​
Archie Stirling
(m. 1982; div. 1990)
ChildrenRachael Stirling

Dame Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg DBE, known as Diana Rigg, (July 20, 1938 - September 10, 2020) was an English actress of stage and screen. Her career in film, television, and the theatre was wide-ranging. On the stage she had roles in the Royal Shakespeare Company and other well-known theater companies in England, as well as performing in Broadway musicals. Notable screen roles included starring as Emma Peel in the British TV series The Avengers (1965–1968); Countess Teresa di Vicenzo, wife of James Bond, in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969); and as Olenna Tyrell in the American TV series Game of Thrones (2013–2017).

Rigg received recognition as one of the greatest dramatic actors, being made a CBE in 1988 and a Dame in 1994 for her services to drama. Although regarded as an iconic sex symbol, Rigg was an intelligent woman with strong opinions who fought for recognition of the value of women actors as early as the 1960s. She is remembered as a legend of stage and screen, an iconic sex symbol who preferred to fight for gender equality, and an empowered woman who used her talent and sharp wit to successfully entertain her audiences throughout her long career.


Diana Rigg was born in Doncaster, then in the West Riding of Yorkshire (now in South Yorkshire),[1] in 1938 to Louis and Beryl Hilda Rigg (née Helliwell). Her father was born in Yorkshire, worked in engineering, and moved to India to work for the railway to take advantage of the career opportunities there.[2] Her mother moved back to England for Rigg's birth because she felt she had a bad experience at a military hospital during her first child's birth in India. Between the ages of two months and eight years, Rigg lived in Bikaner, Rajasthan, India,[1] where her father worked his way up to a railway executive in the Bikaner State Railway.[2] She spoke Hindi as her second language in those years.[3]

She was later sent back to England to attend a boarding school, Fulneck Girls School, in a Moravian settlement near Pudsey.[2] Rigg felt like a fish out of water at the school, but believed that Yorkshire played a greater part in shaping her character than India did.[4] From 1955 to 1957, she trained as an actress at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art,[5] where her classmates included Glenda Jackson and Siân Phillips.[2]

Rigg in 2011

In the 1960s, Rigg lived for eight years with director Philip Saville, gaining attention in the tabloid press when she disclaimed interest in marrying the older and already-married Saville, saying that she had no desire "to be respectable."[2] She was married to Menachem Gueffen, an Israeli painter, from 1973 until their divorce in 1976,[6] and to Archibald Stirling, a theatrical producer and former officer in the Scots Guards, from March 25, 1982 until their divorce in 1990 after his affair with the actress Joely Richardson.[5]

Rigg had a daughter with Stirling, actress Rachael Stirling, born May 30, 1977.[7] Rigg's grandson was born in April 2017 to Rachael Stirling and Elbow frontman Guy Garvey.[8]

A smoker from the age of 18, Rigg was still smoking 20 cigarettes (one pack) a day in 2009.[9] By December 2017, she had stopped smoking after serious illness led to heart surgery, a cardiac ablation. She joked later, "My heart had stopped ticking during the procedure, so I was up there and the good Lord must have said, 'Send the old bag down again, I'm not having her yet!'"[10]

Diana Rigg died at her London home on September 10, 2020, aged 82.[11] Her daughter, Rachael Stirling, said that the cause of death was lung cancer, which had been diagnosed in March.[12]

Theatre career

Rigg had a successful career and life in theatre, making her professional stage debut in 1957 as Natasha Abashwilli in the RADA production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle at the York Festival in 1957. She joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1959, where she took on the roles of Cordelia in King Lear and Viola in Twelfth Night.

She returned to the stage in the Ronald Millar play Abelard and Heloïse in London in 1970 and made her Broadway debut with the play in 1971. She earned the first of three Tony Award nominations for Best Actress in a Play. She received her second nomination in 1975, for The Misanthrope. A member of the National Theatre Company at the Old Vic from 1972 to 1975, Rigg took leading roles in premiere productions of two Tom Stoppard plays, Dorothy Moore in Jumpers (National Theatre, 1972) and Ruth Carson in Night and Day (Phoenix Theatre, 1978).[13]

In 1982, she appeared in the musical Colette, based on the life of the French writer and created by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, but it closed during an American tour en route to Broadway. In 1987, she took a leading role in the West End production of Stephen Sondheim's musical Follies. In the 1990s, she had triumphs with roles at the Almeida Theatre in Islington, including Medea in 1992 (which transferred to the Wyndham's Theatre in 1993 and then Broadway in 1994, for which she received the Tony Award for Best Actress), Mother Courage at the National Theatre in 1995, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Almeida Theatre in 1996 (which transferred to the Aldwych Theatre in October 1996).

In 2004, she appeared as Violet Venable in Sheffield Theatres' production of Tennessee Williams's play Suddenly Last Summer, which transferred to the Albery Theatre. In 2006, she appeared at the Wyndham's Theatre in London's West End in a drama entitled Honour which had a limited but successful run. In 2007, she appeared as Huma Rojo in the Old Vic's production of All About My Mother, adapted by Samuel Adamson and based on the film of the same title directed by Pedro Almodóvar.[14]

She appeared in 2008 in The Cherry Orchard at the Chichester Festival Theatre, returning there in 2009 to star in Noël Coward's Hay Fever. In 2011, she played Mrs Higgins in Pygmalion at the Garrick Theatre, opposite Rupert Everett and Kara Tointon, having played Eliza Doolittle 37 years earlier at the Albery Theatre.[15]

In February 2018, she returned to Broadway in the non-singing role of Mrs Higgins in My Fair Lady. She commented, "I think it's so special. When I was offered Mrs Higgins, I thought it was just such a lovely idea."[16] She received her fourth Tony nomination for the role.[17]

Film and television career


The Avengers
Cast marker plate that was presented by ABC television in 1965 to mark the location where Diana Rigg was tied to the track during filming of the "Grave Diggers" episode of "The Avengers"

From 1965 to 1968, Rigg appeared in 51 episodes of the British 1960s television series The Avengers (1961–1969) opposite Patrick Macnee as John Steed. Rigg played the secret agent Emma Peel, replacing Elizabeth Shepherd at very short notice when Shepherd was dropped from the role after filming two episodes. Rigg auditioned for the role on a whim, without ever having seen the program.

Rigg's character, Emma Peel, was a lady spy adventurer and expert in martial arts. A strong heroine, she was rarely defeated in fights and capable of rescuing Steed if he was in trouble. A certified genius, she specialized in chemistry and other sciences. Peel drove a convertible Lotus Elan at high speeds, and convincingly portrayed any series of undercover roles, from nurse to nanny. She became a feminist role model around the world and is considered an icon of British popular culture. Regarded as a 1960s fashion icon and sex symbol, the character is often remembered for the leather catsuit sometimes worn by Rigg in the first series.[18]

Although she was hugely successful in the series, Rigg disliked the lack of privacy that it brought. In particular, she was not comfortable in her position as a sex symbol.[19] In an interview with The Guardian in 2019, Rigg stated that "becoming a sex symbol overnight had shocked" her.[4] She also did not like the way that she was treated by production company Associated British Corporation (ABC).

In a June 2015 interview with the website The A.V. Club, Rigg talked about her chemistry with Patrick Macnee on The Avengers despite their 16-year age difference:

I sort of vaguely knew Patrick Macnee, and he looked kindly on me and sort of husbanded me through the first couple of episodes. After that we became equal, and loved each other and sparked off each other. And we’d then improvise, write our own lines. They trusted us. Particularly our scenes when we were finding a dead body—I mean, another dead body. How do you get ’round that one? They allowed us to do it.[20]

Asked if she had stayed in touch with Macnee (the interview was published two days before Macnee's death and decades after they were reunited on her short-lived American series Diana):

You’ll always be close to somebody that you worked with very intimately for so long, and you become really fond of each other. But we haven’t seen each other for a very, very long time.[20]

For her second series she held out for a pay rise from £150 a week to £450.[21] The £150 a week was less than the pay received by a cameraman.[22] In 2019—when gender pay inequality was very much in the news—she said:

Not one woman in the industry supported me ... Neither did Patrick [Macnee, her co-star]... But I was painted as this mercenary creature by the press when all I wanted was equality. It's so depressing that we are still talking about the gender pay gap.[4]

She did not stay for a third year. For the role of Emma Peel, she received two Emmy Award nominations as Best Actress in a Dramatic Series in 1967 and 1968.[22]

Other television roles

Rigg appeared in numerous TV series. In 1973–1974, she starred in a short-lived US sitcom called Diana. She appeared as the title character in The Marquise (1980), a television adaptation of a play by Noël Coward, and in the title role in the Yorkshire Television production of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler (1981).

She appeared as Regan, the king's treacherous second daughter, in a Granada Television production of King Lear (1983) which starred Laurence Olivier in the title role. As Lady Dedlock, she co-starred with Denholm Elliott in a television version of Dickens' Bleak House (BBC, 1985). In 1989, she played Helena Vesey in Mother Love for the BBC. Her portrayal of an obsessive mother who was prepared to do anything, even murder, to keep control of her son won Rigg the 1990 BAFTA for Best Television Actress.[23]

In 1995, she appeared in a film adaptation for television based on Danielle Steel's Zoya as Evgenia, the main character's grandmother.[24]

She won an Emmy for her portrayal as Mrs Danvers in Rebecca (1997). She also appeared in the PBS production Moll Flanders, and as the amateur detective Mrs Bradley in The Mrs Bradley Mysteries.

From 1989 until 2003, she hosted the PBS television series Mystery!, shown in the United States by PBS,[25] taking over from Vincent Price, her co-star in Theatre of Blood.

In 2013, she appeared in an episode of Doctor Who in a Victorian-era based story called "The Crimson Horror" alongside her daughter Rachael Stirling, Matt Smith, and Jenna-Louise Coleman. The episode had been specially written for her and her daughter by Mark Gatiss and aired as part of series 7.[26] It was not the first time mother and daughter had appeared in the same production – that was in the 2000 NBC film In the Beginning where they played the same character at different ages – but the first time she had worked with her daughter and the first time in her career her roots were accessed to find a Doncaster, Yorkshire accent.[3]

The same year, Rigg was cast in a recurring role in the third season of the HBO series Game of Thrones, portraying Lady Olenna Tyrell, a witty and sarcastic political mastermind popularly known as the Queen of Thorns, the paternal grandmother of regular character Margaery Tyrell.[27] Her performance was well received by critics and audiences alike, and earned her an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards in 2013. She reprised her role in season four of Game of Thrones, and in July 2014 received another Guest Actress Emmy nomination. In 2015 and 2016, she again reprised the role in seasons five and six in an expanded role from the books. In 2015 and 2018, she received two additional Guest Actress Emmy nominations. The character was killed off in the seventh season, with Rigg's final performance receiving wide critical acclaim.[28] In April 2019, Rigg said she had never watched Game of Thrones and "hadn't got a clue" about what was happening on the show. Rigg said her death scene was "just wonderful. ... She does it with dignity and wit, and wit is not often in final death scenes."[29]

During autumn 2019, Rigg was filming the role of Mrs Pumphrey at Broughton Hall, near Skipton, for All Creatures Great and Small.[30] Rigg passed away after filming of the first season had been completed.


Rigg with Lazenby while filming On Her Majesty's Secret Service in 1969

On the big screen, she became a Bond girl in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), playing Tracy Bond, James Bond's only wife, opposite George Lazenby. She said she took the role with the hope that she would become better known in the United States.[31]

Her other films from this period include The Assassination Bureau (1969), Julius Caesar (1970), The Hospital (1971), Theatre of Blood (1973), In This House of Brede (1975), based on the book by Rumer Godden, and A Little Night Music (1977).

She received acclaim for her performance as Arlena Marshall in the film adaptation of Agatha Christie's Evil Under the Sun, sharing barbs with her character's old rival, played by Maggie Smith.[32]

She also played Lady Holiday in The Great Muppet Caper (1981) and the Evil Queen, Snow White's evil stepmother, in the Cannon Movie Tales's film adaptation of Snow White (1987).

Her later film appearances include the 2006 film The Painted Veil where she played a nun,[33] and the 2017 biographical drama Breathe directed by Andy Serkis.[34] Her last role was in the psychological horror film, Last Night in Soho (2021), released posthumously.[35]

Public positions

Rigg held a number of positions in educational and charitable organizations.

She was a long-standing patron of International Care & Relief and was for many years the public face of the charity's child sponsorship scheme. She was also chancellor of the University of Stirling, a ceremonial rather than executive role.[5]

She also held positions at the University of Oxford, as Cameron Mackintosh Visiting Professor of Contemporary Theatre, University of Oxford (1999–2000),[36] and Emeritus Fellow at St. Catherine's College Oxford from 2000.[37]


Diana Rigg had a long and successful career, spanning six decades, on stage and screen. Her ability to perform a wide range of characters made her well known to a wide audience. For example, the popular British television series "The Avengers" in which she starred in the 1960s, brought her to the attention of the British public and her role in the James Bond movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service garnered her international recognition, as did her role as Olenna Tyrell in "Game of Thrones." On the other hand, her roots in classical theatre provided a legendary stage career. A flawless interpreter of classical stage work, she took on roles from Shakespeare to contemporary musicals, winning accolades and awards for her performances.

Michael Parkinson, who first interviewed Rigg in 1972, described her as the most desirable woman he ever met and who "radiated a lustrous beauty."[38] Despite her success as Emma Peel in The Avengers and later playing a "Bond girl" in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Rigg was uncomfortable in her position as a sex symbol.

Throughout her long career she displayed not only legendary acting talent but also intelligence and strong opinions. A groundbreaking empowered woman, ahead of her time in her attitude to the role and value of women, Rigg did not consider herself a feminist. Her efforts to gain recognition for female actors as valuable members of the cast, evidenced by equal pay, were not well received at the time (the 1960s). It was decades before the issue was seriously considered and remained unresolved even at the end of Rigg's life.

Awards and Honors

In addition to being nominated for, and winning, several awards for her acting performances on stage and screen (see below), Rigg also received many other honors.

She was awarded both Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) (1988) and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) (1994) for her services to drama.[39]

Rigg was also awarded several honorary degrees including:

  • University of Stirling, Doctor of the University (D.Univ) (1988)
  • University of Leeds, Doctor of Literature (D.Litt)(1992)
  • University of Nottingham, Doctor of Literature (D.Litt) (1995)
  • London South Bank University, Doctor of Literature (D.Litt) (1996)

In 2014, Rigg received the Will Award, presented by the Shakespeare Theatre Company, along with Stacy Keach and John Hurt.[40]

Year Award Category Work Result Ref.
1967 Emmy Award Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series The Avengers Nominated [41]
1968 Nominated
1970 Laurel Award Female New Face The Assassination Bureau 10th place
1971 Tony Award Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play Abelard and Heloise Nominated [42]
1972 Golden Globe Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in any Motion Picture The Hospital Nominated [43]
1975 Tony Award Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play The Misanthrope Nominated [42]
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actress in a Play Nominated
Emmy Award Outstanding Lead Actress in a Special Program - Drama or Comedy In This House of Brede Nominated [41]
1990 BAFTA TV Award Best Actress Mother Love Won [23]
Broadcasting Press Guild Award Best Actress Won [44]
1992 Evening Standard Theatre Award Best Actress Medea Won [45]
1994 Olivier Award Best Actress Nominated [46]
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actress in a Play Nominated [42]
Tony Award Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play Won [42]
1995 CableACE Award Supporting Actress in a Movie or Miniseries Screen Two (Episode: "Genghis Cohn") Nominated [47]
1996 Olivier Award Best Actress in a Play Mother Courage Nominated [48]
Evening Standard Theatre Award Best Actress Mother Courage and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf Won [45]
1997 Olivier Award Best Actress in a Play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf Nominated [49]
Emmy Award Best Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie Rebecca Won [41]
1999 Olivier Award Best Actress in a Play Britannicus and Phèdre Nominated [50]
2000 Special BAFTA Award non-competitive John Steed's partners (shared with Honor Blackman, Linda Thorson and Joanna Lumley) The Avengers (and The New Avengers) Awarded [51]
2002 Emmy Award Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie Victoria & Albert Nominated [41]
2013 Critics' Choice Television Award Best Guest Performer in a Drama Series Game of Thrones Nominated [52]
Emmy Award Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series Nominated [41]
2014 Critics' Choice Television Award Best Guest Performer in a Drama Series Nominated [53]
Emmy Award Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series Nominated [41]
2015 Emmy Award Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series Nominated [41]
2018 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical My Fair Lady Nominated [54]
Tony Award Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Nominated [55]
Emmy Award Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series Game of Thrones Nominated [41]
2019 Canneseries Variety Icon Award N/A Won [56]


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  7. Drama Faces:Rachael Stirling BBC, June 10, 2011. Retrieved August 25, 2022.
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  9. Laura Potter, My body & soul The Guardian, April 18, 2009. Retrieved August 25, 2022.
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  16. Beth Stevens, My Fair Lady's Diana Rigg on Broadway Memories and Sharing the Bubbly Broadway Buzz, February 19, 2018. Retrieved August 25, 2022.
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  27. Oliver Lyttelton, Dame Diana Rigg Joins Season 3 of HBO's 'Game of Thrones' Indie Wire, July 13, 2012. Retrieved August 25, 2022.
  28. Glen Weldon, 'Game Of Thrones' Season 7, Episode 3: 'I've Brought Ice And Fire Together' NPR, July 31, 2017. Retrieved August 25, 2022.
  29. Emma Jones, Why Diana Rigg 'loves being disliked' BBC, April 10, 2019. Retrieved August 25, 2022.
  30. Flora Carr, Where is All Creatures Great and Small filmed? Radio Times, November 27, 2020. Retrieved August 25, 2022.
  31. Jeff Jarvis, Bond's Beauties People, July 18, 1983. Retrieved August 25, 2022.
  32. Vincent Canby, 'Evil Under Sun,' New Christie The New York Times, March 5, 1982. Retrieved August 25, 2022.
  33. Manohla Dargis, A Plague Infects the Land, as Passion Vexes Hearts The New York Times, December 20, 2006. Retrieved August 25, 2022.
  34. Breathe IMDb, Retrieved August 25, 2022.
  35. Last Night in Soho IMDb. Retrieved August 25, 2022.
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  40. Stacy Keach, John Hurt, Dame Diana Rigg Receive Bennett Recognition Awards Bennett Awards, April 7, 2015. Retrieved August 25, 2022.
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  44. 1990 Broadcasting Press Guild (BPG) Awards. Retrieved August 25, 2022.
  45. 45.0 45.1 Evening Standard Theatre Awards 1955-2000 Evening Standard, April 10, 2012. Retrieved August 25, 2022.
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  47. John Dempsey, It's HBO Agaian at CableACEs Variety, September 25, 1995. Retrieved August 25, 2022.
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  50. Olivier Winners 1999 Official London Theatre. Retrieved August 25, 2022.
  51. Dame Diana Rigg DBE BAFTA. Retrieved August 25, 2022.
  52. HBO, FX Lead Critics' Choice TV Awards — But Where Are 'Mad Men', 'Modern Family'? Deadline, May 22, 2013. Retrieved August 25, 2022.
  53. Critics' Choice TV Awards: Complete list of winners and nominees Los Angeles Time, June 20, 2014. Retrieved August 25, 2022.
  54. Gordon Cox, 'Carousel,' 'SpongeBob SquarePants' Lead 2018 Drama Desk Nominations (Full List) Variety, April 26, 2018. Retrieved August 25, 2022.
  55. Elysa Gardner‍, After 'Game of Thrones,' Diana Rigg Makes a Celebrated Return to Broadway Entertainment Tonight, May 24, 2018. August 25, 2022.
  56. Variety Icon Award for CANNESERIES Presented to Dame Diana Rigg FG Art & Lifestyle. Retrieved August 25, 2022.

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