Obituaries

TV Spy Series Star Brought Complex Programming to U.S.

Emmy-winning actor Patrick McGoohan, shown in a 1965 scene from the CBS series
Emmy-winning actor Patrick McGoohan, shown in a 1965 scene from the CBS series "Secret Agent," created and starred in "The Prisoner." (Associated Press)
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By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 15, 2009

Patrick McGoohan, 80, a dashing actor who brought originality to early TV spy series such as "The Prisoner" and "Secret Agent" in the 1960s and who later won two Emmy Awards for his guest appearances on the detective program "Columbo," died Jan. 13 in Los Angeles. The family declined to provide the exact cause of death.

Raised in England, Mr. McGoohan appeared in several British stage and film productions, including the terrific action film about rival truckers, "Hell Drivers" (1957), and a reworking of "Othello" set in a contemporary jazz setting, "All Night Long" (1962), which also featured musicians Dave Brubeck and Charles Mingus.

Mr. McGoohan's film career was sporadic, including supporting roles as the warden opposite Clint Eastwood in "Escape From Alcatraz" (1979) and the cruel king to Mel Gibson's warrior in "Braveheart" (1995). Instead he focused on a prolific television career as an actor, writer and director.

He gained wide notice for his leading role in the British series "Danger Man" (1960), which aired on CBS as "Secret Agent" in the mid-1960s to capitalize on Ian Fleming's James Bond franchise.

Mr. McGoohan played John Drake, a British security investigator who offers his services to governments around the world. Johnny Rivers popularized the show's theme song, "Secret Agent Man," with lyrics that begin:

"There's a man who leads a life of danger

To everyone he meets he stays a stranger."

The music captured the sleek hero, who shared an interest with Bond in sporty cars, exotic locations and concealed gadgetry and introduced himself as "Drake, John Drake."

The comparison stopped there, because Mr. McGoohan, a married and devout Catholic, insisted on avoiding Bond's womanizing or cold violence.

"When Drake fights, he fights clean," Mr. McGoohan once explained. "He abhors bloodshed. He carries a gun, but doesn't use it unless necessary -- and then he doesn't shoot to kill. He prefers to use his wits. He is a person with a sophisticated background and a philosophy. I want Drake to be in the heroic mould, like the classic Western hero -- which means he has to be a good man."

Mr. McGoohan also reportedly refused the movie role of Bond, which went to his "Hell Drivers" co-actor Sean Connery.

While making "Danger Man," an episode was filmed at the Portmeirion resort in North Wales. He was so struck by the architecture, which blended several incongruous styles, that he made it the background for "The Prisoner," an allegorical mystery-adventure series that he helped create and that aired in England in 1967 and on CBS in 1968 and 1969. He also wrote many of the episodes under pseudonyms.


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