Horror icon and ‘technicolour queen of Hammer’ Barbara Shelley dies aged 88

Shelley had caught COVID-19 in hospital, but her agent says "it wasn't the COVID that took her"

Horror film icon Barbara Shelley has died aged 88, her agent has confirmed.

When sharing the news, Thomas Bowington revealed that Shelley had contracted COVID-19 in hospital, though “it wasn’t the COVID that took her”.

Shelley, who was hailed as the ‘technicolour queen of Hammer’ and remembered as an early horror icon, starred in a number of Hammer Horror films across the 1950s and 60s including Dracula and The Gorgon.

Announcing the news, Bowington said: “She really was Hammer’s number one leading lady and the technicolour queen of Hammer. On screen she could be quietly evil. She goes from statuesque beauty to just animalistic wildness.

Barbara Shelley in ‘Rasputin the Mad Monk’ (1966). Credit: Alamy Stock Photo.

“She was a regular favourite of Hammer events and autograph shows but also performed on stage with the RSC.”

Bowington added that it “wasn’t the COVID” that caused Shelley’s eventual death, and that “she had underlying issues”.

He went on to explain that she contracted coronavirus while in hospital for a routine muscle check-up, saying: “But after that she had an infection and was in hospital by herself for two weeks before Christmas. It’s most likely COVID is going to come up on the death certificate.”

Tributes have poured in on social media following the news of Shelley’s death. One fan wrote: “She matched Christopher Lee’s Dracula and Rasputin for blazing bravura. She became the cat girl and the Gorgon; fought the mad medicos of Wolfit and Cushing; inhabited a village of the damned and channelled the Martians. Our greatest horror actress.”

Another wrote: “So very sad to hear of the passing of #BarbaraShelley. A darling person and a talented actress. When we worked together on Planet of Fire she was so kind to me. She gave me a little owl, still in my possession and some good advice. #RIPBarbaraShelley Wise and wonderful lady.”

See more tributes to the late Barbara Shelley below.

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