The dapper actor who played secret agent John Steed from the long-running 1960s TV series The Avengers, Patrick Macnee, died at 93. The British-born actor died Thursday of natural causes with his family at his bedside in Rancho Mirage, his son Rupert said in a statement.
The clever spy drama, which began in 1961 in Britain, debuted in the United States in 1966. It ran for eight seasons and continued in syndication for decades afterward.
Macnee's umbrella-wielding character appeared in all but two episodes, accompanied by a string of beautiful women who were his sidekicks. The most popular was likely Diana Rigg, who played sexy junior agent Emma Peel from 1965 to 1968. Honor Blackman played Catherine Gale from 1962 to 1964, and Linda Thorson was Tara King from 1968 to 1969.
This 1966 photo provided by ABC shows, Patrick Macnee (left) as John Steed and Diana Rigg as Emma Peel, British secret agents in a scene from The Avengers. (ABC Photo Archives via AP)
"We were in our own mad, crazy world," Macnee told the Wichita Eagle in 2003 when The New Avengers was being issued on DVD. "We were the TV Beatles. We even filmed in the same studio."
But while he made his name internationally playing a smart, debonair British secret agent, Macnee was never a fan of the James Bond movies. "I think their stories aren't that realistic," he told Salt Lake City's Deseret News in 1999. "I think the sadism in them is horrifying. ... On the other hand, the books - the James Bond books - were fascinating."
Macnee nearly lost the role of Steed because of his aversion to violence. In a 1997 interview with The Associated Press, he recalled being told by producers that he would have to pack a gun on The Avengers. "I said, 'No, I don't. I've been in World War II for five years and I've seen most of my friends blown to bits and I'm not going to carry a gun.' They said, 'What are you going to carry?' I thought frantically and said, "An umbrella."
The talented Macnee, who managed to make the improbable weapon seem probable, later became an outspoken opponent of the proliferation of privately owned guns.
In his droll 1992 autobiography, Blind in One Ear, Macnee noted that his early life matched that of his famed character, John Steed, in many ways. The fictional John Wickham Gascoyne Berresford Steed was born in the mid-1920s to a noble British family, educated at Eton and served in the military during World War II.
Daniel Patrick Macnee was born Feb. 6, 1922, in London to a pair of eccentrics, and he also attended Eton, although he claimed to have been thrown out for dealing in horse race bets and pornography. He also served in the military during World War II, captaining torpedo boats that sought to destroy German U-boats in French waters.
Before he left Eton, Macnee had discovered acting. He apprenticed in the British theater, toured in provincial theaters and made his film debut as an extra in the 1938 film "Pygmalion." At 19, he married Barbara Douglas, and they had two children, Rupert and Jenny.
After the war, Macnee graduated from drama school, but he had trouble finding work, moving to Canada at one point to hunt for acting jobs. "I did desert my family," he admitted to the Sunday Mail. "I left when my son Rupert was 5 and my daughter Jenny was 3, and I will always feel bad about that."
Although Macnee was away from the family for a long period when his children were young, Rupert Macnee said "he made up for it later in life." "I was a teenager when he became a TV star in England," recalled his son, a documentary filmmaker. "He was one of those dads you didn't feel ashamed to introduce to your friends. He was very cool."
He married actor Kate Woodville in 1965, and they divorced in 1969. His final marriage was to Baba Majos de Nagyzsenye in 1988. She died in 2007. Macnee became an American citizen in 1959 and moved to Palm Springs in 1967, saying the dry desert air benefited his daughter, who suffered from asthma.
Among his films: "Hamlet" (starring Laurence Olivier), "A Christmas Carol," ''Until They Sail," ''Les Girls," ''Young Doctors in Love," ''Sweet 16" and "This Is Spinal Tap." He had a memorable comic turn in the latter film as British entrepreneur Sir Denis Eton-Hogg.
Before "The Avengers," he had appeared in such TV shows as "Twilight Zone," ''Rawhide" and "Playhouse 90," among many others. But it was "The Avengers" that provided a permanent living for Macnee. He owned 2.5 percent of the profits, and the series continued to play worldwide into the 21st century.
He explained why in his interview with the Deseret News: "It's a very simple reason: It's extremely good. I feel very justified and delighted in seeing after all these years that the show works."
Besides his son and daughter, Macnee's survivors include a grandchild. Funeral services were pending.
This story contains biographical material compiled by late Associated Press Entertainment Writer Bob Thomas