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Joanna Lumley

Joanna Lumley

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Also Known As: Joanna Lamond Lumley Died:
Born: May 1, 1946 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, IN Profession: Cast ... actor producer model author columnist
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BIOGRAPHY

A comedic powerhouse, Joanna Lumley went from modeling to small roles in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (1969) and "The Satanic Rites of Dracula" (1973) before recurring on "Coronation Street" (ITV, 1960) and multiple theatrical productions, usually farces or light comedies like "Blithe Spirit" and "Private Lives." She became a cult star when she followed in the high-kicking footsteps of Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg to become the female lead of "The New Avengers" (ITV, 1976-77) as the martial arts and weapons expert Purdey, which helped her land her own sci-fi series, "Sapphire & Steel" (ITV, 1979-1982). After small film roles including "Curse of the Pink Panther" (1983) and "Shirley Valentine" (1989), she became a worldwide star as the hard-living fashion editor Patsy Stone opposite Jennifer Saunders's neurotic Edina Monsoon on "Absolutely Fabulous" (BBC One, 1992-96; 2001-04; 2011- ). A fearlessly grotesque and endlessly hilarious character in Lumley's hands, Patsy became the show's most powerful comic weapon, and "Fabulous" a national smash and global cult classic, earning her a British Comedy Award and two BAFTAs. Her profile raised accordingly, Lumley booked international roles in "James and the Giant Peach" (1996), "The Cat's Meow" (2001), "EuroTrip" (2004), "Ella Enchanted" (2004) and Corpse Bride" (2005). Although she was much loved in the U.K. for her lengthy body of work and activist politics, Lumley was best known around the world for her iconic "fabulous" work that kept fans in stitches for years.

Born May 1, 1946 in Kashmir and Jammu, then part of British India, Joanna Lamond Lumley grew up in Malaysia and then England, where she achieved fame as a model after being rejected by the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She made an inauspicious film debut in 1969 with ornamental roles in "Some Girls Do" and "On Her Majesty's Secret Service." Larger roles followed but they tended to showcase her attributes more than her talent, such as the final installment of the Hammer Dracula series, "The Satanic Rites of Dracula" (1973). She recurred on "Coronation Street" (ITV, 1960) and "General Hospital" (ITV, 1972-79) and made her stage debut in the farce "Not Now Darling." A gifted and fearless comic actress, she scored again with the comedies "Don't Just Lie There, Say Something," "The End of Me Old Cigar," "Hedda Gabler," "Blithe Spirit" and the national tour of "Private Lives."

Lumley at last achieved mainstream stardom when she was tapped to become the latest in a string of iconic women super-agents - a list that included Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg and Linda Thorson - with "The New Avengers" (ITV, 1976-77). Partnered to John Steed (Patrick Macnee) in these continuing adventures, Lumley charmed as the all-powerful Purdey, a former ballerina-turned-martial arts and weapons expert. Although reaction to the series itself was lukewarm compared to the original's reception, Lumley proved the show's best element, earning a modicum of pop cultural immortality as one of the heroines of the "Avengers" universe, taking home a special BAFTA Award with Blackman, Rigg and Thorson. Lumley's cult popularity landed her the starring role in her own sci-fi adventure series, "Sapphire & Steel" (ITV, 1979-1982). Playing a mysterious interdimensional agent who is not quite human, Lumley enjoyed a subsequent career and profile boost, endearing herself greatly to critics and audiences for how well she acquitted herself in the cheesy but fun series.

International audiences had a glimpse of Lumley in two small roles in Blake Edwards' "Trail of the Pink Panther" (1982) and "Curse of the Pink Panther" (1983), and she achieved a breakthrough with a supporting role as a schoolmate of the titular "Shirley Valentine" (1989), which became a moderate worldwide success. She became a global star, however, with her outrageous, go-for-broke performance as the drug-addicted, hard-drinking, man-eating fashion editor Eurydice Colette Clytemnestra Dido Bathsheba Rabelais Patricia Cocteau "Patsy" Stone, best friend to the equally unhinged publicist Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) on the smash sitcom "Absolutely Fabulous" (BBC One, 1992-96; 2001-04; 2011- ). The series became an instant obsession in Britain, powered by the chemistry between Saunders and Lumley, with the latter providing many of the show's most viciously brilliant punchlines. Showing an utter lack of vanity and obviously relishing playing the cartoonishly grotesque Patsy, Lumley was the show's stand-out.

Showered with awards for her daring work on "Ab-Fab," Lumley won a Best Comedy Actress British Comedy Award and two BAFTAs, as well as watched "Fabulous" achieve cult success in the United States as well as around the world. As Patsy, Lumley's iconic beehive, cigarette and disheveled glamour became instantly recognizable, and the LGBT community in particular embraced the character as a camp goddess. Lumley's career took off accordingly, with roles as Mrs. Peacock in a TV game show adaptation of "Cluedo" (ITV, 1990-93), Mrs. Mary Smiling in "Cold Comfort Farm" (BBC, 1995) and Kate Swift on "Class Act" (ITV, 1994-95). She voiced the Patsy-esque Aunt Spiker in the animated adaptation of Roald Dahl's "James and the Giant Peach" (1996) and reprised Miss Stone alongside Saunders's Edina on a memorably strange episode of "Roseanne" (ABC, 1988-1997). (At the time, Roseanne had bought the rights for an American adaptation of the series, which did not pan out).

Lumley next played Morgan Le Fey in "Prince Valiant" (1997) and Mrs. Lovett in "The Tale of Sweeney Todd" (Showtime, 1997) and continued to maintain a steady presence in British film and television, including a starring turn as a vain soap actress on "Dr Willoughby" (ITV, 1999). International audiences saw her again in Peter Bogdanovich's "The Cat's Meow" (2001), "EuroTrip" (2004) and "Ella Enchanted" (2004) and heard her distinctive cut-glass voice in "Corpse Bride" (2005) as well as in the U.K. version of AOL's famous "You've got mail" greeting for users. She starred on three additional series, "Sensitive Skin" (BBC Two, 2005), "Clatterford" (BBC, 2006-09) and "Mistresses" (BBC One, 2008-2010) but also made a name for herself with a series of reality and documentary-style appearances that reflected her intellectual curiosity, including "Girl Friday" (BBC, 1994), "Joanna Lumley in the Land of the Northern Lights" (BBC, 2008) and "Joanna Lumley's Nile" (ITV, 2011). She also achieved dazzling success as an activist and advocate for Gurkhas veterans, natives of Nepal and Tibet who served in the British Army, and became the nation's leading advocate for allowing them to settle in Britain. Honored with an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, Lumley saw her most famous role continue to live on. A new American version of "Absolutely Fabulous" was commissioned, starring Kristen Johnston as Patsy, but it never made it to series. Happily, however, the original cast began production on new episodes in 2011. A finale set to coincide with the 2012 London Summer Olympics served as the definitive end of both the series and its characters, according to French and Saunders. Lumley moved on with a supporting role in the romantic drama "Late Bloomers" (2011), starring William Hurt and Isabella Rosselini, She next appeared on the big screen in Martin Scorsese's 1990s period piece "The Wolf of Wall Street" (2013).

By Jonathan Riggs

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