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Patrick Macnee Dies; Avengers Star Was Son of Lesbian Mother

Patrick Macnee Dies; Avengers Star Was Son of Lesbian Mother


Macnee was best known as the dapper spy John Steed in the gay-beloved 1960s series The Avengers.

Patrick Macnee, who starred in the gay-beloved 1960s TV series The Avengers and wrote in his autobiography about being raised by two women, has died at age 93.

Macnee, an Englishman who had lived in Southern California for many years, died of natural causes today at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Variety reports.

Macnee had a long acting career that stretched back to the 1940s, when one of his jobs was as an uncredited extra in Laurence Olivier's 1948 film Hamlet; after the recent death of Christopher Lee, Macnee was reportedly the last surviving cast member.

But his enduring fame came from playing John Steed, a witty, well-dressed British spy in The Avengers, which ran from 1961 to 1969. He always wore a bowler hat and carried an umbrella, which concealed a sword -- the only weapon he ever used. Emblematic of the 1960s, the series was "a mix of the surreal and the camp," London's Telegraph notes, and was one of the first British shows to find a substantial audience in the U.S.

Steed had several partners in espionage over the course of the show, but the most memorable, especially to LGBT audiences, were Cathy Gale, played by Honor Blackman, and Emma Peel, portrayed by Diana Rigg.

"Brought up by women, Macnee was willing to let Steed's leather-clad partners demonstrate their mental and physical equality," the Telegraph obituary observes. "He also thrived on the playful sexual tension between the characters."

Macnee's mother, Dorothea Mary, left his father, Daniel, for a wealthy woman when Patrick was a youth. His mother's lover was known to him as "Uncle Evelyn." According to Macnee's autobiography, Blind in One Ear, Dorothea and Evelyn wouldn't allow men in their home and wanted young Patrick to wear girls' clothing; as a compromise, he dressed in kilts.

Evelyn paid his way to Eton, one of the U.K.'s most prestigious boarding schools, where he developed his acting skills before being expelled for bookmaking and selling erotic pictures to his schoolmates.

He became so identified with Steed that it limited his acting options somewhat, but he persevered, taking TV guest roles and performing in dinner theater as well as appearing on Broadway in Sleuth and turning up in numerous films. He reprised Steed when The Avengers was rebooted as The New Avengers in 1976; in the show, which lasted only one season, one of his costars was Joanna Lumley, who would later become a gay icon as Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous. He lent his voice to an invisible character in the 1998 film of The Avengers, which starred Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman as Steed and Peel. His voice, described on the Internet Movie Database as "chilly but mellifluous," also brought him a second career as a narrator of audiobooks.

Macnee felt "that he had been socially and sexually confused by his upbringing and schooling and found America a less repressed environment; he became an active member of a nudist colony in the mid-1970s," the Telegraph reports. He was married three times and is survived by a son, a daughter, and a grandson.

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