Patrick Macnee, best known as secret agent John Steed in the 1960s TV series The Avengers, has died today of natural causes at his home in Rancho Mirage, CA. He was 93. The program, with glamorous co-stars including the leather-catsuit-wearing Diana Rigg and Honor Blackman, came to epitomize London in the Swinging ’60s. Seeking to capitalize on the success of the James Bond books and films, The Avengers showed a world of derring-do and globe-trotting capers.
With his bowler hat and twirling umbrella, Macnee came to embody the very spirit of the English gentleman, a knowing smile and pithy quip always close at hand. The series lasted from 1961-69. Macnee later would reprise his iconic role in 1975 with The New Avengers, this time opposite Joanna Lumley, managing to squeeze another couple of seasons out of it the concept. He also provided the voice of Invisible Jones for the 1998 feature version of The Avengers starring Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman and Sean Connery.
Macnee spent his early life in Lambourn, Berkshire, England, where his father was a racehorse trainer and his mother was awarded a British Empire Medal for her work with military families. He was educated at Summerfields Preparatory School, where he acted in Henry V at age 11, with Sir Christopher Lee as the Dauphin; followed by attending Eton College. Macnee trained at London’s Webber-Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, where he met and married Barbara Douglas. He served in the coastal forces of the Royal Navy during World War II.
He was a prolific stage actor, appearing in more than 150 plays from his 20s to his 70s, including the Broadway production of Sleuth in the early 1970s and the lead in Killing Jessica on London’s West End. He also enjoyed the rare feat of playing both Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. He starred opposite close friend Sir Roger Moore in A View To A Kill and The Sea Wolves, along with Gregory Peck and David Niven. He had a memorable cameo in This Is Spinal Tap as Sir Denis Eton-Hogg.
“So very sad to hear Pat MacNee has left us,” said Moore in a statement. “We were mates from 1950s, and I have so many happy memories of working with him. A true gent.”
Macnee was married three times, and leaves behind two children, a son and a daughter, with his first wife Barbara Douglas, as well as one grandson. He spent the last 40 years of his life living in California.