Joan Henrietta Collins was born in Paddington, London on 23 May 1933 and brought up in Maida Vale, the daughter of Elsa Collins (née Bessant), a dance teacher, and Joseph William Collins, a South African-born talent agent.
She was educated at the Francis Holland School, an independent day school for girls in London, and made her stage debut in the Henrik Ibsen play A Doll’s House at the age of nine.
At the age of 16 she trained as an actress at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). By 17, she was signed to the Rank Organisation, a British film studio.
At 18, she was voted the most beautiful girl in England by a photographers’ association.
When the newspapers asked her father what he thought, he said: “I’m amazed. She’s a nice-enough-looking girl, but nothing special.”
She played small roles in Lady Godiva Rides Again (1951) and The Woman’s Angle (1952) before taking on a supporting role in Judgment Deferred (1952).
Her big break came with a highly publicised role as a juvenile delinquent in I Believe in You (1952), leading to her initial stardom and the press nickname “Britain’s Bad Girl”.
She also starred in England’s first X certificate drama, the superb Cosh Boy (1952).
In 1960, she became increasingly disillusioned with 20th Century Fox when having been the original choice to play the title role in Cleopatra (1963), the part was given to Elizabeth Taylor. Collins withdrew from the studio’s production of Sons and Lovers and requested a release from her contract.
She began her television career with a guest role in The Human Jungle in 1963. Her notable appearances on American television during the 1960s included playing the villainous Siren in Batman, Run For Your Life, The Virginian, Mission: Impossible, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and in Star Trek she played Edith Keeler in the episode, “The City on the Edge of Forever”.
Her many guest appearances during the 1970s included The Persuaders, Space: 1999, Police Woman, The Moneychangers, Starsky and Hutch, Tattletales, Switch, Future Cop, Ellery Queen, The Fantastic Journey, Baretta and three separate episodes of Tales of the Unexpected.
She rounded off the decade playing Cleopatra in an episode of Aaron Spelling’s Fantasy Island.
Collins returned to Britain in 1970 and starred in several films, mostly thrillers and horror films, including Revenge (1971), Quest for Love (1971), Tales from the Crypt (1972), Fear in the Night (1972), Tales That Witness Madness (1973) and Dark Places (1974).
After two comedy films – Alfie Darling (1974) and The Bawdy Adventures of Tom Jones (1976) – Collins returned to the US to make the dreadful giant insect science-fiction piece Empire of the Ants (1977). She was catapulted back to major stardom in the UK in 1978 when she starred in the film version of her sister Jackie Collins’s racy novel The Stud and the subsequent sequel, The Bitch (1979).
In 1981, she accepted a role in the second season of the then-struggling soap opera Dynasty (1981–89) as Alexis Colby, the beautiful and vengeful ex-wife of oil tycoon Blake Carrington (John Forsythe). Sophia Loren had already turned down the role.
The show became an enormous worldwide phenomenon, and by 1985, it was the #1 show in the United States, beating out CBS rival Dallas. She was nominated six times for a Golden Globe Award (every year from 1982 to 1987), winning in 1983.
At age 50, Collins appeared in a 12-page photo layout for Playboy magazine, for which she was paid $100,000.
When Dynasty ended in 1989, Joan made her Broadway stage debut as Amanda in a successful revival of Noël Coward’s Private Lives. She subsequently toured the US with the play and starred in a production in London’s West End.
In the 1990s, she made guest-star appearances on series including Roseanne (1993), The Nanny (1996) and Will and Grace (2000), and played a recurring role in seven episodes of Pacific Palisades (1997).
Joan Collins has been married five times – to Northern Irish actor Maxwell Reed (1952), Anthony Newley (1963), American businessman Ron Kass (1972), former Swedish pop star Peter Holm (1985), and Percy Gibson (2002).
In 1959, Collins had a relationship with the then-unknown actor Warren Beatty. They were engaged in 1960, but his infidelity led to their split. Her other lovers included Ryan O’Neal, Marlon Brando and Harry Belafonte.