Honor Blackman, Star of 'The Avengers' and 'Goldfinger,' Dies at 94

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Honor Blackman went for a roll in the hay as Pussy Galore in the 1964 James Bond film 'Goldfinger.'

The judo expert shockingly quit the popular British TV series after two seasons to star as Bond girl Pussy Galore in the third 007 film.

Honor Blackman, the beguiling British actress who portrayed the leather-clad Cathy Gale on TV's The Avengers and then Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, has died. She was 94.

Blackman, who first won recognition for her performance as Elizabeth Taylor's friend in the MGM spy tale Conspirator (1949), died at her home in Lewes, Sussex, of natural causes unrelated to the coronavirus, her family told The Guardian.

"As well as being a much-adored mother and grandmother," her family said, "Honor was an actor of hugely prolific creative talent. With an extraordinary combination of beauty, brains and physical prowess, along with her unique voice and a dedicated work ethic, she achieved an unparalleled iconic status in the world of film and entertainment and with absolute commitment to her craft and total professionalism in all her endeavors she contributed to some of the great films and theater productions of our times."

The London native with the icy blue eyes also played a woman who believes that she has nothing to live for in A Night to Remember (1958), one of the retellings of the Titanic disaster. And five years later, she starred as the goddess Hera in Jason and the Argonauts (1963).

Considered a real-life goddess to her adoring fans, Blackman joined the British series The Avengers for its second season in 1962 as Mrs. Gale, a widowed anthropologist and black belt in judo who quite ably assists the bowler-wearing, umbrella-toting John Steed (Patrick Macnee) in solving crimes. (Gale started out as a revamped version of another character, Doctor Keel, played by Ian Hendry, who had left the series).

With The Avengers soaring in the ratings and about to air on ABC in the U.S., Blackman in December 1963 announced that she was exiting after two seasons to star as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964). She would effectively be replaced by Diana Rigg as Emma Peel.

"Everybody was quite startled when I decided to leave, especially since the program was about to go onto film and into color. It was a bombshell, I'm afraid, for everybody, that I was going, but I thought my decision was right and I still think it was right," she said in 2011.

"It was two years of a show every fortnight for the entire year. I used to stand up for hours and hours after rehearsals for clothes fittings as well as go to the gym for my judo. I also used to do an enormous amount of publicity for the series, as did Patrick. It was very, very tough going but great fun."

In her final Avengers episode, "Lobster Quadrille," Steed says to Gale, "You're going to be pussyfooting around on some beach," she recalled. "He worked that into the dialogue because everybody in Great Britain knew where I was going, so it was sort of an in-joke."

In Goldfinger, her henchwoman character, the leader of an all-woman flying-display team, trades sexy double entendres — and judo moves — with Agent 007 (Sean Connery):

Galore: "My name is Pussy Galore."
Bond: "I must be dreaming."

"She was a fascinating creature and the least predictable of all James Bond's conquests," Blackman once said. "All the others succumbed quickly, but not Pussy. In the [1959 Ian Fleming] book she was a lesbian.”

Her action roles led to the publishing of a 1966 book: Honor Blackman’s Book of Self-Defence.

Wrote one reader on the book's Amazon.com page: "She truly was an amazing woman well ahead of her time who not only was able to catch the eye of men with her stunning looks but also able to judo flip them across the room like a sack of potatoes!" 

Honor Blackman was born in East London on Aug. 22, 1925, the daughter of a civil servant who taught her how to box. She attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and began acting in the West End.

In 1947, she made her motion picture debut with an uncredited role in Fame Is the Spur, starring Michael Redgrave.

Blackman often was cast as a demure young woman in such late 1940s films as Daughter of Darkness, Quartet and A Boy, A Girl and a Bike. In 1950, she appeared in So Long at the Fair with Dirk Bogarde and the following year performed opposite Roger Livesey and Richard Burton in Green Grow the Rushes.

She won notice in The Square Peg (1958) and A Matter of WHO (1961), with Terry-Thomas. Those performances led to her casting as the imperious Mrs. Gale.

Blackman followed Goldfinger with three films released in 1965: The Secret of My Success, a comedy with Shirley Jones and Stella Stevens; the drama Life at the Top (1965), also starring Laurence Harvey; and the tragic love story Moment to Moment.

In 1966, she starred in the West End production of Wait Until Dark.

Later, Blackman played in Richard Donner's Lola (1970), opposite Charles Bronson and Susan George; The Last Grenade (1970), in which she was the wife of Richard Attenborough's character; Fright (1971), a horror film with George yet again; and The Cat and the Canary, a 1978 version of the haunted-house amusement.

More recently, Blackman appeared in Bridget Jones's Diary (2001), Color Me Kubrick (2005), the noir thriller I, Anna (2012) and Cockneys vs. Zombies (2012).

For most of the 1990s, Blackman starred as Laura West in the long-running ITV sitcom The Upper Hand. The series was an adaptation of the ABC hit Who's the Boss? with Blackman playing the role originated by Katherine Helmond — the sexually active mother of an advertising exec who employs a male live-in housekeeper.

Blackman was married twice, the second time to actor Maurice Kaufmann. They appeared together in Fright and adopted two children, Lottie and Barnaby. Survivors also include her grandchildren Daisy, Oscar, Olive and Toby.

Duane Byrge contributed to this report.