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British-born actress delighted in Dynasty, Doctor Who

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O'Mara overcame numerous setbacks, depression to retire to countryside

LONDON — Kate O'Mara, who has died aged 74, was an actress whose cliff-high cheekbones, brooding glare and nifty line in tough talk fuelled a successful international television career. She first came to prominence in cult British series Doctor Who, but found international fame as Joan Collins' catty sister in the hugely popular American television show Dynasty.

MICHAEL WALTER/ THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES British actress Kate O'Mara, seen in 1998 and best known in North America for her role in the 1980s soap opera Dynasty, has died at age 74.

As Cassandra "Caress" Morrell — the revenge-obsessed sibling of Collins's Alexis Colby — O'Mara excelled in bouts of verbal sparring with her British costar over the course of 19 episodes in the mid-' 80s.

"We had a tremendous bitchy tension between us," recalled O'Mara.

The performance was a master class in melodrama — delivering a rollercoaster ride of fictional success and trauma that was matched by her own life story. "I'm part of six generations of a theatrical family," she wrote in her memoirs, Vamp Until Ready: A Life Laid Bare ( 2003).

"For over 40 years I've done everything from Shakespeare to Hollywood soaps, from restoration comedy to cult television drama, from westerns to pantomime. I have been nothing if not diverse. My personal life, however, has been a disaster area. Rape, desertion, adoption, divorce and numerous relationships with very much younger men."

Her early television appearances during the ' 60s included roles in series such as The Saint, The Champions, The Avengers and Z- cars.

In the early ' 70s she made a more salacious name for herself as the voluptuous figure of desire in erotic horror B- movies such as The Vampire Lovers. Equally dubious was Triangle, an early-' 80s soap opera, which has often been cited as some of the worst television ever produced ( although retrospectively it drew admirers).

The move to America for Dynasty came with its own problems for a country girl from England. "I had a five-year contract on Dynasty and after two months I was thinking, goodness, how am I going to stand it out here?" she recalled. "It's just relentless sunshine. It's a desert at the end of the day. I love the seasons, I love winter and autumn and rain. The people were very charming but I did find that it wasn't terribly good for my soul."

She was let go after one season. "The studio said: ' Joan thinks it's not a good idea to have another brunette on the show,'" recalled O'Mara. "I was quite relieved. I'd been asked to appear in King Lear back in Britain, and they said: ' Oh, you go back and do your little play,' which I thought was hilarious."

O'Mara had a recurring role as the renegade Time Lord "The Rani" in the cult Doctor Who series. Appearing opposite both the Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy incarnations of the Doctor, her scientifically minded, devilish character enslaved planets to experiment on their subjects.

In later years, she returned to familiar territory playing another character with a difficult sister — this time as second sibling to Joanna Lumley's Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous. During the ' 90s she followed Joan Collins's lead and turned her hand to writing, publishing two novels ( Good Time Girl, 1993, and When She Was Bad, 1995) and two autobiographical volumes ( Game Plan: A Woman's Survival Kit, 1990, and Vamp Until Ready, 2003).

In 2012, her son, Dickon Young — formerly a stage manager for the Royal Shakespeare Company — was found hanged at the family home. He had had a history of mental illness. Late in life she talked about how she had overcome her own bouts of depression: "particularly during my first marriage breakup 31 years ago. But I've since learned a cure for depression: listening to Bach and reading P. G. Wodehouse. This got me through the breakup of my second marriage 17 years ago. The great thing about Wodehouse is that his books are full of romantic problems and yet so hilarious that it puts things in perspective."

A quiet country life in occasional retirement in Somerset suited her. "I'm not frightened of dying, but I love the countryside so much and I'm going to miss it. I'd like to be out in the wind and the trees for ever."

Kate O'Mara married twice. First to Jeremy Young in 1961 (dissolved in 1976) and, secondly, in 1993, to Richard Willis (dissolved 1996). Her son, from a separate relationship, predeceased her.

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