Honor Blackman, the English actor best known for being a Bond girl in the 1960s, has died, her family announced Monday. She was 94.
In a statement to the Guardian, Blackman's family said she died "peacefully of natural causes" at her home in Lewes in Sussex surrounded by her family.
Her family described her as a much-adored mother and grandmother who doubled as an actor of "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 theatre productions of our times," said her family.
Born in 1925, Blackman grew up in working-class London, where both she and her brother, Ken, learned how to box as children. Encouraged by the elocution teacher who coached away her East End accent, she started taking acting lessons. During World War II, Blackman volunteered to ride a motorbike around London transporting medical supplies; she would have to turn off the headlight during blackouts.
Although she began acting professionally in the 1940s, it wasn't until Blackman's 1962 debut on The Avengers that her career took off: She played Cathy Gale, the spy, anthropologist, and martial artist who replaced David Keel as the male lead's sidekick. Her Avengers episodes were filmed without stunt doubles, and Blackman became very good at judo. She said she received a lot of fan mail, including a sizable amount from lesbians; some of the letters were very shocking to her publicist. In the Toronto Star in 1987, she said, "While [Cathy] wasn't the first female who was allowed to think or be without reference to a man — although she was that — she was certainly the first woman to defend herself physically. I think it must have been threatening for the male sex." In the 1960s, she wrote Honor Blackman's Book of Self-Defence, the cover of which features an image of Blackman doing something very painful to a man's arm.
Despite the character's acknowledged threat to the male ego, Blackman diagnosed Cathy's limitations in the Globe and Mail in 1987: "Judo was her specialty, and with judo it's almost impossible to attack somebody." Because the martial art relies on the attacker's momentum, "Cathy only defended herself. That is why she seemed so pure and good and righteous."
Blackman left The Avengers to appear in 1964's Goldfinger as Bond girl Pussy Galore, whose slightly obscene name was censored multiple times during the publicity tour for the movie.
Blackman told the New York Times in 1981 that many people didn't know Pussy was a lesbian in the 1959 Ian Fleming book. The filmmakers "wouldn't allow that in the movie," she said, though there are hints: She is a pilot who runs the all-women Pussy Galore's Flying Circus, and she tells Bond she's "immune" to his charms. Blackman was glad the character's homosexuality wasn't made explicit, "because it would have seemed so ridiculous that she would change overnight just because James Bond took her to bed."
The role did not particularly help Blackman's career: Post-Goldfinger, she said, she was typecast as a "glamour puss." Blackman said Mervyn LeRoy, directing her in 1965's Moment to Moment, would call for "a wobble shot" — a shot in which her breasts were jiggling.
Blackman remained a realist about her work: In 2007, she told the Guardian that she got the role of Pussy Galore because "I was very, very hot at the time." In the same article, the reporter made a crude joke about getting into bed with her.
In addition to appearing in more than 100 films and TV series, Blackman worked extensively in theater, including a turn in Nunsense, in which nuns stage the musical Grease. In 2007, she told the Halifax Courier that she had no wish to retire: "I would just be bored and get fat," she said. At the time, she was in her eighties and touring a one-woman show.
She was also active in politics, campaigning for the Liberal Party in 1964 and advocating for the UK to become a republic. She joined the list of people who've turned down a CBE when she refused the royal distinction in 2002, citing her opposition to the monarchy.
After a divorce from her second husband and the father of her two children in the 1970s, the actor never remarried, and she embraced living alone. She told Lady, "I do whatever I want when I want and that's how life should be as far as I am concerned."
Blackman is survived by her two children, Lottie and Barnaby, and her four grandchildren.
David Mack contributed reporting.