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Patrick McGoohan of "The Prisoner" Series


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Britain's the Guardian is reporting that Patrick McGoohan died yesterday (Tuesday, January 13 2009) in Los Angeles, at age 80.

But to generations raised on "The Prisoner" he is not a number. He is -- and always was -- a free man.

In fact, rugged individualism marked not only McGoohan's greatest characters -- TV's "Danger Man" (dubbed "Secret Agent," after its jazzy theme song, in U.S. syndication) and the elusive, existential "The Prisoner." It marked his entire life.

"I am not a number," his captured hero would insist in that show. "I am a free man!" And so McGoohan proved, over and over.

Born in Queens to immigrant Irish parents -- looking for, and failing to find, a better life in America -- McGoohan was later raised in Ireland and England, where he boxed, worked in a bank and, eventually, got a job as a stage manager at a repertory company.

It was there he met a young actress named Joan Drummond. They courted seriously and with great style -- McGoohan was an incurable, letter-writing romantic -- and married in 1951.

McGoohan had already begun acting and British TV's "Danger Man," in 1960, was to be his big break. But he had some definite ideas about the character, and the show. Violence, he stressed, had to be kept at a minimum -- this was about an intelligence man, he insisted, not an assassin. And -- please -- no love scenes.

The producers were, reportedly, horrified, but McGoohan stuck to his demands. In fact, after the series became a hit, he was offered the roles of first James Bond, then Simon "The Saint" Templar. He turned them both down, on the same moral grounds.

He did revive his secret agent character -- or perhaps not -- on the mysterious cult hit "The Prisoner," where he played a spy (known only as Number 6) removed by mysterious people to an undisclosed location. There he battled interrogators, peculiar clothes and a giant, deadly beach ball.

Both shows were huge hits, even in the States -- I remember seeing "Secret Agent" as a kid on local NY television, and "The Prisoner" on PBS. But McGoohan never exploited them as the springboard for an easy action franchise, or seriously changed his mind about the sort of roles he would play.

Not that he didn't play a variety. He was the rigid prison warden in "Escape From Alcatraz," opposite Clint Eastwood, and a memorably evil English king in Mel Gibson's "Braveheart." He appeared (onscreen, and as an offscreen voice) in several children's films, and on a few fine "Columbo" episodes and even guest-starred on "The Simpsons" -- playing Number 6, of course. And every role was marked by his droll delivery and cool confidence.

He did not have the career he could have. His own, highly personal standards ensured that. But he probably had exactly the sort of career he wanted.

Funeral plans haven't been announced. The actor is survived by a great-grandchild, five grandchildren, three daughters -- and his wife of 57 years.

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'Secret Agent' and 'Prisoner' Actor Patrick McGoohan


Patrick McGoohan

LOS ANGELES, California -- Patrick McGoohan, an Emmy Award-winning actor who starred as a British spy in the 1960s TV series, "Secret Agent" and "The Prisoner," died peacefully Tuesday, January 13 in St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica after a short illness, said Cleve Landsberg, McGoohan's son-in-law. The family did not provide further details. He was 80.

It was the height of James Bond mania in 1965 when McGoohan showed up on American TV screens in "Secret Agent," a British-produced series in which he played John Drake, a special security agent working as a spy for the British government.

The hour-long series, which ran on CBS until 1966, was an expanded version of "Danger Man," a short-lived, half-hour series on CBS in 1961 in which McGoohan played the same character. But it was McGoohan's next British-produced series, "The Prisoner," on CBS in 1968 and 1969, that became a cult classic.

Once described in The Times as an "espionage tale as crafted by Kafka," the series, "The Prisoner," starred McGoohan as a British agent who, after resigning his post, is abducted and held captive by unknown powers in a mysterious village, where he known only as No. 6. McGoohan created and executive-produced the series, which ran for only 17 episodes. He also wrote and directed several episodes.

Patrick McGoohan was born in New York City, on Long Island on March 19, 1928. His parents had immigrated to the United States, and a few months after his birth, decided to return to Ireland. They settled in County Leitrim, his early childhood was a relatively poor one on a family farm that proved to have poor soil.

He went to a local school in Sheffield and recalls, "We were evacuated during the war. During that time, I went to a private boys' school with four other boys from Sheffield, all with pretty much the same background as myself. We had scholarships and evacuation allowances. After that, I went to work in the steel mills in Sheffield."

McGoohan got a school certificate, the equivalent of a diploma and passed the exams to go to Oxford, but then said he decided, []"I didn't want to go." In 1944, at the age of 16, he left school and took various jobs over the next few years. During this time he became ill with bronchial asthma and spent six months in bed. Once recovered, he applied for work at the Sheffield Repertory Company. He was still under 20.

McGoohan recalls, "I worked in the steel mills, in a bank for about nine months, ran a chicken farm for a while, and then I got the job at the Sheffield Playhouse as the general stage manager. During all of the steel mill work, banking, and chicken farming, I was in five different amateur theatrical companies, so I was acting all of the time. I started out at the St. Vincent's Youth Center in Sheffield."

McGoohan took the job as stage manager at the Sheffield Repertory Theatre and for a while did every type of work needed to keep the company going. He also got the chance to play small parts in the plays that were being produced and he could learn the basics of acting under a master, Geoffrey Ost, the Director of the Company.

Within two years, McGoohan was a leading player. He also met a young actress with the company, Joan Drummond. They married May 19, 1951, between a rehearsal of "The Taming of the Shrew" and a performance of "The Rivals." He estimates that he appeared in at least 200 plays during all of his early years.

By the mid-1950's, McGoohan had become established as a lead player on prestige stages at the West End in plays such as "Moby Dick" and "Serious Charge," both in 1955. as well as "Ring for Catty" in 1956. At the same time, McGoohan was also moving into television taking feature roles in episodes of regular series.

His TV credits include "The Vise" and "You Are There," as well as a number of BBC TV plays. In 1955, Patrick McGoohan appeared in his first film, "Passage Home," although only in a small part he quickly followed with other brief appearances in "I am a Camera," "The Dam Busters" and "The Warrior" -- also titled "The Dark Avenger" -- all in 1955. McGoohan also had a supporting part in "Zarak" in 1956.

In 1957, he became a contract actor for the Rank Organization, a major film company in England, and moved up into lead roles in films. While he was working for Rank, he starred in a number of BBC-TV live plays. It was, in large part, these performances that brought the recognition that served as a step-up to his first television series.

The Ibsen play, "Brand," brought about a dramatic rise in McGoohan's career. He achieved critical success, winning the 1959 London Drama Critics Award for his performance. He repeated the role later in the year on a special BBC-TV broadcast.

In the same year, he was recognized as Britain's top stage actor, he was also named Best TV Actor of the Year for his starring role as the first man on the moon in the BBC-TV play, "The Greatest Man in the World." Another 1959 BBC-TV play, "The Big Knife," was of great importance to his career, it lead to an offer from Lew Grade to do the "Danger Man" series.

As a guest star on TV's "Columbo," McGoohan added kudos to his acting resume by winning two Emmy Awards. His first came in 1975 and the second Emmy was earned in 1990. McGoohan combined his acting, directing, and writing talents over a three-year period on TV's "Columbo," starring Peter Falk.

In 1974, he appeared in "By Dawn's Early Light" as a military colonel who resorts to murder to support military honor and misguided ideals in his position as head of a military academy. His performance won him an Emmy for Outstanding Single Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Drama Series."

The following year, McGoohan directed and appeared in "Identity Crisis" as a brash, advertising executive leading a life as a secret agent with a penchant for side deals. He once again took a director's job in a 1976 "Columbo" episode titled, "Last Salute to the Commodore" starring Peter Falk and Robert Vaughn.

McGoohan was known for playing various villainous roles in films and on television. Among the memorable villains he played on screen was England's sadistic King Edward I in Mel Gibson's 1995 film, "Braveheart."

McGoohan is survived by his wife of 57 years, actress Joan Drummond and three daughters, Catherine, Anne and Frances. He also leaves behind five grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Funeral arrangements are pending.

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