By Lynn Elber ,AP

LOS ANGELES — Patrick Macnee, the British-born actor best known as dapper secret agent John Steed in the long-running 1960s TV series ��The Avengers,�� has died. He was 93.

Macnee died Thursday of natural causes with his family at his bedside in Rancho Mirage, his son Rupert said in a statement.

The clever spy drama, which began in 1961 in the United Kingdom, debuted in the United States in 1966. It ran for eight seasons and continued in syndication for decades afterward.

Macnee’s umbrella-wielding character appeared in all but two episodes, accompanied by a string of beautiful women who were his sidekicks. The most popular was likely Diana Rigg, who played sexy junior agent Emma Peel from 1965 to 1968. Honor Blackman played Catherine Gale from 1962 to 1964, and Linda Thorson was Tara King from 1968 to 1969.

��We were in our own mad, crazy world,�� Macnee told the Wichita Eagle in 2003 when ��The New Avengers�� was being issued on DVD. ��We were the TV Beatles. We even filmed in the same studio.��

But while he made his name internationally playing a smart, debonair British secret agent, Macnee was never a fan of the James Bond movies.

��I think their stories aren’t that realistic,�� he told Salt Lake City’s Deseret News in 1999. ��I think the sadism in them is horrifying … On the other hand, the books �X the James Bond books �X were fascinating.��

Macnee nearly lost the role of Steed because of his aversion to violence. In a 1997 interview with The Associated Press, he recalled being told by producers that he would have to pack a gun on ��The Avengers.��

��I said, ‘No, I don’t. I’ve been in World War II for five years and I’ve seen most of my friends blown to bits and I’m not going to carry a gun.’ They said, ‘What are you going to carry?’ I thought frantically and said, ‘An umbrella.’��

The talented Macnee, who managed to make the improbable weapon seem probable, later became an outspoken opponent of the proliferation of privately owned guns.

In his droll 1992 autobiography, ��Blind in One Ear,�� Macnee noted that his early life matched that of his famed character, John Steed, in many ways.