Dame Diana Rigg died on Thursday 10 September 2020 at the age of 82, according to her agent. Simon Beresford said in a statement:
“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.”
Diana Rigg: Life and legacy
Icon of theatre, film and television
Rigg’s daughter confirmed that she passed in her sleep, having been diagnosed with cancer in March. Rigg had “spent her last months joyfully reflecting on her extraordinary life, full of love, laughter and a deep pride in her profession”.
Rigg – an “icon of theatre, film and television” – was most famously known for her portrayal of Olenna Tyrell in Game of Thrones, and Emma Peel in TV series The Avengers.
The Shakespeare Theatre Company honoured Rigg with the Will Award in 2014, while the British Film Institute in 2015 marked 50 years of Emma Peel by screening an episode of The Avengers.
Rigg took to the stage afterward for an interview about her time working on the series, saying she was “completely and utterly naive about The Avengers.”
“I pitched up [for the interview] and I hadn’t seen it, I didn’t know what it was about, I had absolutely no idea at all. […] Patrick Macnee was incredibly kind and helped me through, I think he probably said a word in the producer’s ear”.
Her career spanned more than six decades; Rigg landed her film first role in the 1959 TV movie A Midsummer Night’s Dream, followed by roles in Theatre Night and The Sentimental Agent.
In the later stages of her career, she won legions of younger fans and critical praise for her part as Olenna Tyrell of Highgarden in the hugely popular Game of Thrones series.
She later joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, and Rigg became a household name when she landed the role of Emma Peel in The Avenger’s series in 1965. Her most recent role was Mrs Pumphrey in the TV series, All Creatures Great and Small.
She was also cast as Miss Collins in the series Last Night in Soho, and as Mother Dorothea in the miniseries Black Narcissus. Both titles are currently in post-production with a release date set for 2021.
“For half her life Diana was the most beautiful woman in the room, but she was what used to be called a Trouper. She went to work with her sleeves rolled up and a smile for everyone.”
Tom Stoppard, playwright and screenwriter.
Rigg left school in 1955 and trained as an actress at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Her professional debut was in a Bertolt Brecht production titled The Caucasian Chalk Circle, which featured in the 1957 York Festival.
Rigg lived with director Philip Saville for eight years in the sixties and became a popular tabloid feature as Saville was older and already married. In her biography, published in 2004, Rigg said she “had no desire to be respectable”.
She married Menachem Gueffen in 1973, however the couple divorced three years later. Rigg again tied the knot with Archie Stirling in 1982, and the marraige lasted for eight years before the couple parted ways.
Rigg had been smoker her entire life, but found herself seriously ill in 2017. She underwent a heart operation and her heart stopped during surgery. Riggs later joked:
“The good Lord must have said, ‘Send the old bag down again, I’m not having her yet’.”
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