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Diana Rigg

Diana Rigg

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Also Known As: Dame Diana Rigg Died:
Born: July 20, 1938 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Yorkshire, England, GB Profession: actor, model

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

The poised, effortlessly versatile veteran of stage, film and television for over five decades, Dame Diana Rigg was a rara avis: a flawless interpreter of Shakespeare and other classical stage work, as well as a thinking manâ¿¿s sex symbol as Mrs. Emma Peel, the catsuit-sporting crime fighter on "The Avengers" (ITV, 1961-69). Riggâ¿¿s cool beauty and knack for witty banter made her an idol among male viewers during the 1960s, but she struggled to overcome the characterâ¿¿s superhuman charms after leaving the show. She instead found lasting fame and respect on Broadway and television, where she netted Tony and Emmy awards as formidable figures like Medea and Mrs. Danvers in "Rebecca" (ITV, 1996). Though fondly remembered for "The Avengers" decades later, Riggâ¿¿s body of work made her one of the most accomplished and respected actresses in the business.Born Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg on July 20, 1937 in Doncaster, a town in Englandâ¿¿s South Yorkshire County, she was the daughter of Louis Rigg, a railway engineer, and his wife, Beryl Hila Helliwell. When she was just two months old, her father took an assignment as a railway executive in Bikaner, India, where the family remained until Rigg was eight...

The poised, effortlessly versatile veteran of stage, film and television for over five decades, Dame Diana Rigg was a rara avis: a flawless interpreter of Shakespeare and other classical stage work, as well as a thinking manâ¿¿s sex symbol as Mrs. Emma Peel, the catsuit-sporting crime fighter on "The Avengers" (ITV, 1961-69). Riggâ¿¿s cool beauty and knack for witty banter made her an idol among male viewers during the 1960s, but she struggled to overcome the characterâ¿¿s superhuman charms after leaving the show. She instead found lasting fame and respect on Broadway and television, where she netted Tony and Emmy awards as formidable figures like Medea and Mrs. Danvers in "Rebecca" (ITV, 1996). Though fondly remembered for "The Avengers" decades later, Riggâ¿¿s body of work made her one of the most accomplished and respected actresses in the business.

Born Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg on July 20, 1937 in Doncaster, a town in Englandâ¿¿s South Yorkshire County, she was the daughter of Louis Rigg, a railway engineer, and his wife, Beryl Hila Helliwell. When she was just two months old, her father took an assignment as a railway executive in Bikaner, India, where the family remained until Rigg was eight years old. Upon their return to Yorkshire in 1945, she was sent to the Fulneck Girls School at Pudsey, where she struggled to fit in with the other students. The experience provided her with an independent streak that would be a hallmark of her personality for the rest of her life.

At 13, she made her acting debut in a school production of "Goldilocks," which inspired her to make the craft her profession. She was then accepted to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where she honed her talents, though she frequently clashed with the faculty and was nearly dismissed. While completing her studies, she worked in a variety of jobs, including a four-month stint as a fashion model. Her professional stage debut came in the Academyâ¿¿s 1957 production of "The Caucasian Chalk Circle." She later joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and made her London stage debut in 1961â¿¿s "The Devils" before progressing to a wide variety of Shakespearean and other classical roles. The pay from her stage work was barely enough to keep Rigg afloat, so she began working in television in 1962. Three years later, she was announced as Honor Blackmanâ¿¿s replacement on the popular action series, "The Avengers."

Riggâ¿¿s Emma Peel was, at first, modeled along the lines of Blackmanâ¿¿s Cathy Gale, a formidable martial artist and supremely self-confident woman. Like Gale, Mrs. Peel â¿¿ whose husband, pilot Peter Peel, had disappeared over the Amazon â¿¿ was athletic and brilliant, but with added layers of fashion sense and sexual freedom that made her exceptionally popular with both male and female viewers. Fans were also fond of the banter between Mrs. Peel and Patrick Macneeâ¿¿s John Steed, which was occasionally bawdy but always delivered with champagne crispness. Riggâ¿¿s popularity helped to boost the showâ¿¿s ratings in both England and the United States, and its producers embraced the Pop Art aesthetic seen in Mrs. Peelâ¿¿s outfits â¿¿ the most notable of which was a leather catsuit, which Rigg disliked intensely â¿¿ and added touches of fantasy and science fiction to the plots.

For Rigg, the experience of "The Avengers" was a bittersweet one. The series had clearly boosted her into the spotlight, but the rigors of the shooting schedule prevented her from taking other projects. She also became soured on the series when she discovered that she was earning less than some of the cameramen. After holding out for a pay raise, she returned for a second season, which would be her last. She then ventured into films in the hopes that her popularity on "The Avengers" would translate into a career in features.

After appearing with Helen Mirren and Ian Holm in a filmed version of the Royal Shakespeare Companyâ¿¿s production of "A Midsummer Nightâ¿¿s Dream" (1968), she was cast as Countess Teresa di Vincenzo in "On Her Majestyâ¿¿s Secret Service" (1969). The idea of pairing Emma Peel with James Bond (George Lazenby) was a tempting one for moviegoers, and Rigg brought a great deal of spark and spirit to the character, who made history as the only woman to wed Agent 007. Her characterâ¿¿s death inspired Bond, once again played by Sean Connery, to eliminate her assassin, supervillain Ernst Stavro Blofeld, in the opening moments of "Diamonds Are Forever" (1971). Rumors of Riggâ¿¿s displeasure with Lazenby were part of show business legend for decades before the actress was forced to dispel them in interviews.

The Bond film was only a modest success, and Riggâ¿¿s subsequent screen efforts essentially followed suit: "The Assassination Bureau" (1969) was an agreeable period adventure with Oliver Reed as a charming hired killer and Rigg as the lady journalist who fell for him, while the Oscar-winning "The Hospital" (1971) cast her as the daughter of a homicidal maniac (Barnard Hughes) who cures suicidal doctor George C. Scott of his impotence. She later played Portia, wife of Jason Robardsâ¿¿ Brutus, in the all-star 1970 film version of "Julius Caesar," and showed a wicked sense of humor as Vincent Priceâ¿¿s loyal but homicidal daughter in the black horror-comedy "Theatre of Blood" (1973). All were well-regarded projects, but none were box office hits, which sent Rigg back to the stage and television for more substantive work.

She won a Tony for her Broadway debut in 1971â¿¿s "Abelard and Heloise," which marked a lengthy tenure on American and British stages throughout the 1970s and 1980s. An uncouth comment about her nude scene in "Abelard" by critic John Simon inspired her to pen No Turn Unstoned, a collection of vicious reviews by theater critics that became a bestseller and cult favorite in 1982. Rigg briefly returned to series work with "Diana" (NBC, 1973-74) as a British divorcee who moves to New York City to begin a new life as a fashion coordinator. She had more success with "In This House of Brede" (1975), which marked her Stateside TV-movie debut as a British woman who joined a convent. Rigg was nominated for an Emmy for her performance, and would largely focus on TV features on both sides of the Atlantic for much of the 1980s and 1990s.

Riggâ¿¿s storied theatrical background made her a natural for classical works on the small screen, and she tackled such towering roles as "Hedda Gabler" (YTV, 1981) and Regan in a legendary production of "King Lear" (Channel 4, 1983) with Laurence Olivier in the title role. In 1989, she won a BAFTA as a mother whose fixation on her son leads to murder in "Mother Love" (1989), which aired in the U.S. on the PBS series "Mystery!" (1980- ), which she also hosted from 1989 to 2003.

The 1990s was a period of career triumph for Rigg. A return to the Broadway stage in "Medea" (1993) earned her a Tony Award, and was followed by critically acclaimed productions of "Mother Courage" and "Whoâ¿¿s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" In 1996, she won an Emmy as the sinister Mrs. Danvers in an ITV remake of "Rebecca," and won a legion of new fans as Mrs. Bradley, a Jazz Era amateur sleuth, in "The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries" (BBC One, 1998-99), a series of whodunits that aired on "Mystery!" The decade was capped by Queen Elizabeth I naming her Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1994. The 21st century saw Rigg still active in her seventh decade, with performances in productions of "Suddenly Last Summer" in 2004 and Noel Cowardâ¿¿s "Hay Fever" in 2009. She was a less frequent presence on television and in film, though she played a French Mother Superior who presided over a Chinese orphanage in "The Painted Veil" (2006) and appeared in an episode of Ricky Gervaisâ¿¿ international hit series, "Extras" (BBC 2, 2005-07), where she was on the receiving end of a condom in errant flight.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
2.
 Heidi (2005) Cast
3.
 Parting Shots (1998) Lisa
4.
 Original Sin (1997) Host ("Mystery!")
5.
 Haunting of Helen Walker, The (1995) Mrs Grose
6.
 Good Man in Africa, A (1994) Chloe Fanshawe
7.
 Running Delilah (1994) Judith
8.
 Mrs. 'arris Goes to Paris (1992) Madame Colbert
9.
 Prime Suspect (1992) Host ("Mystery!")
10.
 Snow White (1987) Mean Queen
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Spent time as a child living in India when her father worked there building railways; spoke Hindi and was tended to by the customary ayah (a nanny)
1945:
Moved back to England when she began attending boarding school (date approximate)
:
Lived with her parents again when they returned to England from India
1951:
Acted in school play of "Goldilocks" at age 13
:
Modelled for four months in stores (date approximate)
1957:
Professional stage debut as Natasha Abashwilli in RADA production of Bertolt Brecht's "The Caucasian Chalk Circle" at York Festival
1959:
Joined Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in Stratford-on-Avon
1960:
First acted with the RSC when she played the role of Andromache in Shakespeare's "Troilus and Cressida"
1961:
London stage debut with RSC, playing Philippe Trincant in "The Devils" (February 20th)
1962:
Returned to Stratford; began playing wide range of Shakespearean roles at the Aldwych Theater
1963:
TV debut as Francy in episode of ITV's "Sentimental Agent"
1964:
Left the RSC (date approximate)
1964:
Announcement that Rigg had won role of Emma Peel on "The Avengers" (December 15th)
1965:
Acted on ABC hit adventure series, "The Avengers"
1966:
Returned to the RSC to play Viola in a production of "Twelfth Night"
1968:
Film debut as Helena in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (film version of RSC stage production, broadcast on CBS in 1969)
1971:
Broadway debut, "Abelard and Heloise"; received Tony nomination as Best Actress in a Play
1971:
Joined London's National Theater to play the role of Dottie in Tom Stoppard's "Jumpers"
1971:
First US film, "The Hospital"
:
Played Diana Smythe on the NBC sitcom, "Diana"
:
Returned to Broadway to act in a revival of Moliere's "The Misanthrope"; received Tony nomination as Best Actress in a Play
1975:
US TV-movie debut, "In This House of Brede"; received Emmy nomination for performance
1982:
Last feature film for five years, "Evil Under the Sun"
1982:
Played the title role in the stage musical biography of the noted novelist, "Colette"; show closed while on tour and never made it to Broadway
1987:
Performed in the Stephen Sondheim musical, "Follies", on the London stage
1987:
Returned to features to play the "Mean Queen" in an adaptation of "Snow White"
1989:
Served as host of the British-made anthology series, "Mystery!", Broadcast on PBS
1990:
Starred in the PBS miniseries, "Mother Love", aired as several installments of "Mystery!"
1993:
Returned again to features to appear in another children's fantasy film, "The Worst Witch"
1994:
Returned to the Broadway stage for the first time in two decades in a revival of Euripides' classic tragedy, "Medea"
1994:
Named Dame Commander of the British Empire by the Queen
1999:
Portrayed a woman dying of cancer in "Parting Shots", directed by Michael Winner
2001:
Featured on the London stage in "Humble Boy"
2001:
Appeared in the A&E miniseries "Victoria & Albert" about the marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert
2006:
Cast in John Curran's adaptation of the Somerset Maugham novel, "The Painted Veil"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Fulneck Girls School: -
Royal Academy of Dramatic Art: London , England - 1958

Notes

She was named Commander of the Order of the British Empire (1987) and later created a Dame (1994).

Rigg has received honorary doctorates from Stirling University and from the University of Leeds.

She was named professor of theatre arts at Oxford in 1998.

Men seem to have been fans of Diana Rigg not only during her run as Emma Peel in "The Avengers" but more recently as well. One man recently wrote, "Give a man a pudding and Diana Rigg during the lunch hour and experience shows he will be a thing of slobbering contentment from start to finish." --Reported in New York Newsday, April 3, 1994.

"I hope there's a tinge of disgrace about me. Hopefully, ther's one good scandal left in me yet. One surprising thing, yah?" --Diana Rigg quoted in the London Times, May 3, 1999.

Companions close complete companion listing

companion:
Philip Saville. Director. Lived together in the 1960s.
husband:
Menachem Gueffen. Artist. Married on July 6, 1973 in London; divorced on September 3, 1976 on grounds of two-year separation; Israeli; Rigg has described their marriage as "a grotesque error".
husband:
Archibald Hugh Stirling. Occasional theatrical producer. Scottish laird; full title Archibald Stirling of Keir; married on March 25, 1982 in NYC (then-city clerk David Dinkins performed ceremony); had affair with actress Joely Richardson in the 1980s; Rigg filed for divorce but withdrew petition; divorced in August 1990.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Louis Rigg. Engineer. Built railroads in India when Rigg was a little girl.
mother:
Beryl Rigg.
daughter:
Rachael Stirling. Actor. Born on May 30, 1977.

Bibliography close complete biography

"No Stone Unturned" Elm Tree Books

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