fb-pixel Skip to main content

Honor Blackman, actress who played a Bond woman in ‘Goldfinger,’ dies at 94

NEW YORK — Honor Blackman, a formidable and smoldering British actress who vaulted to long-delayed stardom in the 1960s, first as a leather-clad, judo-chopping spy on the hit TV show ‘‘The Avengers,’’ and then as henchwoman and living double-entendre Pussy Galore in the James Bond film ‘‘Goldfinger,’’ died April 5 at her home in Lewes, England. She was 94.

Her family announced the death in a statement shared by her talent agency, StevensonWithers. The cause was not immediately available.

With her pulse-quickening visage, tantalizing purr of a voice, and willowy physique toned by boxing and judo, Ms. Blackman gained a foothold in British films in the late 1940s. She mostly languished in low-budget fare until ‘‘The Avengers’’ made her a household name, presenting her as what she called ‘‘a sort of female James Bond”opposite Patrick Macnee as the dapper, bowler-hatted secret agent John Steed.


Ms. Blackman joined the satirical espionage series in 1962, a year after it began. As Dr. Cathy Gale, she played a widowed anthropologist with consummate knowledge of languages, guns, fast cars, martial arts, and leather apparel.

‘‘There was a line in the script which said, ‘Cathy reaches into her bag for a gun,’ ’’ Ms. Blackman later told the Express of London. ‘‘Now all women know you’d be as dead as a dodo if you had to waste time searching for a gun in your handbag. So that’s why we started doing the judo throws. And that’s why I split my trousers one day and they decided to put me in leather — not for any kinky reasons.’’

The series, with its battle-of-the-sexes appeal, became a popular hit and was credited with contributing to the breakdown of societal mores about the role of women in the workplace and the bedroom.

Ms. Blackman said she insisted on scripts that showcased Gale as Steed’s physical equal and signed a contract that called for her to partake in one fight sequence per episode. Gale, she liked to say, was one of the first feminists on television. But, as she wryly admitted to the New York Times, her fan base skewed 98 percent male, with 1 percent ‘‘concerned with my acting ability.’’


At the height of her ‘‘Avengers’’ fame, she and Macnee recorded the hit novelty song ‘‘Kinky Boots’’ — a nod to Gale’s high black footwear. Although a winking flirtatiousness peaked through on the show, the series did not play up sexual tension between the two leads. Such chemistry became a hallmark of the program after Diana Rigg beguiled viewers as the mod, jumpsuited Emma Peel. The show reached American audiences in 1966, airing on ABC for three years.

Ms. Blackman left ‘‘The Avengers’’ when she was cast opposite Sean Connery in ‘‘Goldfinger’’ (1964), the third entry in the phenomenally popular Cold War franchise. The films, based on Ian Fleming’s novels, focused on a British spook who was impudent and resourceful, a wizard with women and weaponry, and impeccably dressed but capable of back-alley brutishness.

Pussy Galore — a name so blush-inducing that Ms. Blackman claimed many American interviewers during her publicity tour ‘‘couldn’t even bring themselves to say it’’ — was among the most memorable of the largely ornamental ‘‘Bond women.’’ Nearing 40 at the time, she imbued her part with a sultry independence — ‘‘a savage and exciting sensuality younger actresses couldn’t begin to project,’’ film historian Colin Briggs observed.


Her character was a crackerjack aviatrix, the leader of a criminal gang of female fliers enlisted in madman Auric Goldfinger’s scheme to rob Fort Knox.

After ‘‘Goldfinger,’’ Ms. Blackman received several Hollywood roles, but none made a critical or commercial impression, and she returned to a busy, workmanlike career onstage and in British films and TV shows.

Honor — ‘‘my mother read it in a book’’ — Blackman was born in London on Aug. 22, 1925. Her father, a government statistician, was an ill-tempered drunk who she said beat her and her siblings with a leather strap to enforce discipline. He also taught them how to box in self-defense.

As a teenager, she was forced to choose between a bicycle and elocution lessons as a birthday gift; she selected the latter in the hope of pleasing her father. ‘‘God help me if I’d chosen the bicycle,’’ she told the Daily Mail. (She said her mother wounded her in other ways; when a teenage Honor asked whether she looked pretty, her mother replied, ‘‘You’ll pass in a crowd.”)

Ms. Blackman’s elocution teacher saw raw talent and persuaded her to apply to the prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She paid the tuition with a day job as a civil service filing clerk, while working as an understudy in London’s West End theater district and also helping the World War II effort by ferrying blood between hospitals on a motorbike.


Her relations with her father ruptured when she came home at 18 wearing ruby red lipstick. He struck her, and she fought back. She said she then rushed into a marriage with Bill Sankey, a businessman who was disturbingly possessive and who, without her knowledge, drained her bank account.

She said the discovery led to a nervous breakdown, a three-week stay in a psychiatric hospital, and a divorce. She later married and divorced actor Maurice Kaufmann, with whom she adopted two children, Barnaby and Lottie. She leaves the two children as well as four grandchildren.

As a young woman, Ms. Blackman was under contract to the J. Arthur Rank Organization, a leading British movie studio, but she tended to be miscast in sweet and decorative parts. A series of rough-edged roles on British TV, notably on the program ‘‘Probation Officer,’’ led to the offer to costar in ‘‘The Avengers.’’

She later starred as a seductive TV journalist in ‘‘Life at the Top’’ (1965) opposite Laurence Harvey’s caddish lost soul. As a supporting player, she reunited with Connery in ‘‘Shalako’’ (1968), based on a Louis L’Amour novel about a hunting party of European aristocrats (including Brigitte Bardot) who venture into Apache territory.

She had smaller roles in ‘‘The Virgin and the Gypsy’’ (1970), based on a novella by D.H. Lawrence, and horror films such as ‘‘Fright’’ (1971). She had a cameo as a glamorous flirt in ‘‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’’ (2001).

Ms. Blackman was a prolific actress on the London stage, starring to acclaim in 1966 as a blind woman terrorized by drug dealers in ‘‘Wait Until Dark.’’ With her smoky voice, she released a well-received album, ‘‘Everything I’ve Got’’ (1964), which promoted her as a cross between Julie London and Marlene Dietrich.