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Diana Rigg: Life And Legacy Of 'The Avengers,' Bond And 'Game Of Thrones' Actress


Dame Diana Rigg, the British actress who came to 1960s fame playing Emma Peel in television's "The Avengers," has died. She was 82. NPR's Bob Mondello offers a remembrance.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Her Emma Peel was mod, sexy and so good at both banter and self-defense that she was introduced in her first "Avengers" episode literally fencing with her co-star.


PATRICK MACNEE: (As John Steed) By the way, are you busy just now?

DIANA RIGG: (As Emma Peel) Not very. I've just written an article for the Science Weekly, but that's finished. Why?

MONDELLO: Rigg was feisty off screen as well. During her first season on the show, she discovered she was making less money than the camera man and insisted on a raise before filming another episode. She stayed with "The Avengers" for a few seasons, but the theater, her first love, beckoned. Actually, it had been beckoning all along.

While still taping the TV show, she'd been appearing onstage with Laurence Olivier in "King Lear." She was later acclaimed in "The Cherry Orchard," "Pygmalion" and "Mother Courage." She won Broadway's Tony Award for her Medea. On-screen, she became the only Bond girl to get 007 to the altar, played Vincent Price's daughter in the camp classic "Theater Of Blood," and to the surprise of many, sang the role of bitter, dyspeptic Charlotte in a film version of the Broadway musical "A Little Night Music."


RIGG: (As Charlotte Mittelheim) Give the lap dog a command, and she crawls for him. For the little understanding, she is owed.

MONDELLO: That husky voice was the result of years of smoking a pack a day. In her 70s, Rigg played the artfully blunt Lady Olenna Tyrell in "Game Of Thrones."


RIGG: (As Lady Olenna Tyrell) I wonder if you're the worst person I've ever met. At to certain age, it's hard to recall. But the truly vile do stand out through the years.

MONDELLO: Speaking of truly vile, critics, who mostly adored Diana Rigg, were not always kind. She once got a nasty review from New York Magazine's John Simon for a stage performance in which she'd had a nude scene. He described her as built like a brick basilica with insufficient flying buttresses. She did not take that lying down. Instead, she used it as an excuse to ask her acting pals to help her assemble a compendium of the most scathing, uncomprehending and generally mean critiques they'd ever received. They contributed a book's worth of vitriol, and Diana Rigg published it, titled with a pun Emma Peel would doubtless have approved, "No Turn Unstoned."

I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF RYUICHI SAKAMOTO'S "JOURNEY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.