Andy Whitfield, the original star of Starz's series Spartacus: Blood And Sand, died Sunday in Sydney, Australia, according to the Associated Press. He was 39. His death followed a lengthy battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a battle that removed him from the show that featured him in the title role. "We were fortunate to have worked with Andy in Spartacus and came to know that the man who played a champion on-screen was also a champion in his own life," said Starz president and CEO Chris Albrecht in a statement. AOL TV's Maureen Ryan has thoughts from other Spartacus cast and crew members here.
Whitfield was unknown to American audiences when he landed the role of Spartacus, a move that seemed particularly risky when viewed in light of the fact that his co-stars included such acclaimed and well-known actors as John Hannah and Lucy Lawless and in light of the fact that the film Spartacus featured Kirk Douglas in the central role. But over the course of the first season's bloody and harrowing 12 episodes, Whitfield put his own spin on the story, centering it on a quest for revenge and a desire to escape the slavery he'd been put under and return home. His visceral performance gave the occasionally overwrought series a definitive center and helped it find focus and drive as it finished out its first season in a strong fashion.
The show became a massive hit and put Starz on the map as a destination for programming, and when initial complications from Whitfield's disease meant that the second season would be delayed, Starz opted to do a Whitfield-less prequel, Spartacus: Gods Of The Arena, and hope Whitfield would be better in time to star in a second season to air in January of 2012. Instead, Whitfield's condition did not improve, and actor Liam McIntyre was hired to fill the part.
"He’s permanently stepped away from this role, but Andy and I always joke about one day working together again. And I would like nothing more than to work on another series with Andy," said Spartacus executive producer Steven S. DeKnight at a July session for the Television Critics Association press tour, in the midst of a discussion about how much Whitfield had brought to the role.
For his part, McIntyre seemed both honored and intimidated by the responsibility of filling Whitfield's shoes. Whitfield contacted McIntyre shortly after he landed the part, McIntyre said at the same session. "He’s gotten in contact with me, and he I mean, the guy has got, I know from experience now, the job that you dream of getting. It’s the job of a lifetime, and then he’s met with this tragic circumstance. And he’s still got the strength of character to contact me and say, 'Good luck. Well done,' and give me some tips and advice on how to get through the grueling schedule. I think that speaks volumes of a man. He’s fantastic, and his legacy from season one will continue forever."