Actress Diana Rigg Dies at 82

Diana Rigg as Olenna Tyrell in HBO's Game of Thrones


Diana Rigg, Star of Game of Thrones and The Avengers, Dies Age 82

Dame Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg was an English actress. She was most famous for her roles as Emma Peel in The Avengers and Olenna Tyrell in Game of Thrones. Her career spanned decades, across all media, including theater, television, and movies. It earned her a Tony and an Emmy award. She died September 10, in her home in England at 82 years old. Her daughter said the cause was cancer. Rigg got the diagnosis in March. 

Early Life of Diana Rigg

Diana Rigg in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) image © United Artists Corporation
Diana Rigg in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Image © United Artists Corporation

Rigg was born in Doncaster, Yorkshire, England. Much of her childhood was spent in India where her father was a railway executive. She eventually went back to England for school. She trained as an actress at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art from 1955 to 1957. Some of her classmates included Glenda Jackson and Sian Phillips.

Her career began with theater. She was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company from 1959-1967. She toured the US and Canada as Cordelia in the company’s production of King Lear.  

Career Highlights

Rigg made a name for herself in the theater world, both in the UK and the US. Her most famous role on Broadway was the titular Medea in Medea in 1994. The role earned her a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play. She also starred in notable shows such as Pygmalion (both in 1974 and 2011), Colette (1982), and Stephen Sondheim’s Follies (1987). 

TV came next for Rigg. She broke out as a star in the 1960s sci-fi and action show The Avengers, where she played Emma Peel. For 51 episodes she appeared as the secret agent, and became somewhat of a sex symbol, to her own shock. She earned an Emmy nomination twice for the role, but didn’t win. In 1997, she starred as Mrs. Danvers in the miniseries Rebecca. That role won her a well-deserved Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie. Her most popular role in modern television was Lady Olenna Tyrell in HBO’s Game of Thrones. She earned three more Emmy nominations for the portrayal, and in my opinion, should have won them. The Queen of Thorns was legendary. 

On the big screen, Rigg made history as James Bond’s wife. She starred opposite George Lazenby in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969. This was the most significant of her film roles. But don’t worry, you haven’t seen the last of Diana Rigg. Her final film, Last Night in Soho, is currently in post-production. It will premiere in 2021.

The Industry Mourns 

Lionel Larner, Rigg’s talent agent and friend, said, “She was a beautiful kind and generous human being that enhanced the lives of all that knew her as well as a great actress. She leaves a great void in my heart.” 

Several Game of Thrones co-stars paid tribute on social media, including Nikolaj Coster Waldau (Jaime Lannister on the show), who wrote on Instagram, “Dame Diana Rigg. She always raised the bar with her incredible talent, intelligence, and wit. An absolute joy and honor to work with. May her soul Rest in Peace”. Liam Cunningham, who played Ser Davos Seaworth, Tweeted “Rest in peace. A remarkable wonderful and enormously talented human being”. Even the official Game of Thrones Twitter account tweeted, “Be a dragon. The realm will always remember Diana Rigg”.

A Special Goodbye

Her Bond, George Lazenby, posted an emotional tribute on Instagram. He captioned a photo of the pair of them with, “I’m so sad to hear of the death of Diana Rigg. She undoubtedly raised my acting game when we made On Her Majesty’s Secret Service together in 1968-9. I remember the press conference at the Dorchester in London, knowing she was going to play my wife. We had fun together on the set of the movie in Switzerland and Portugal. Her depth of experience really helped me. We were good friends on set. Much was made of our supposed differences but that was the Press looking for a news story. I was sorry to have lost my wife in the film at the end. The death of Contessa Teresa di Vincenzo Draco created a memorable cinema moment over 50 years ago. As my new bride, Tracy Bond, I wept for her loss. Now, upon hearing of Dame Diana’s death, I weep again. My deepest condolences for her family. Love George xx.” 

The industry did indeed lose a special talent today. May she rest in peace, and we send condolences to her loved ones.

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