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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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There was unconfirmed speculation that his "Prisoner" character, renamed "Number 6," was in fact a retired Drake put to pasture in a mysterious village where he struggles to retain control of his wits while trying to escape his elusive captors.

The show's meaning remains a source of debate. Some viewers saw the drama, which aired at a peak moment of the 1960s counterculture movement, as a critique of establishment power over the individual. The unnamed hero proclaims at one point, "I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own."

"The Prisoner" attracted devoted fans at the time, but not enough. Although short-lived, it was credited with setting a thematic, at times surreal template for such films as "The Truman Show" (1998) with Jim Carrey and the current ABC series "Lost."

Robert J. Thompson, founding director of Syracuse University's Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture, said of "The Prisoner" that it "was an early taste of really complex, literate, thematically dense programming" at a time when most Americans were used to talking horses, genies as hapless homemakers and courtroom shows where Perry Mason wins every case.

Mr. McGoohan would later distinguish himself as a television director and continue his acting career through recent years, but his breakthrough in popular culture would always remain "The Prisoner" -- an ironic turn of events given the show's theme of an inescapable destiny.

He seemed to take this fate good-naturedly. He reprised, by voice, the role of Number 6 in an episode of "The Simpsons" in 2000 in which Homer Simpson declares, "I am not a number! I am a man! Oh wait. . . . I'm Number Five. Ha-ha! In your face, Number Six."

The son of Irish immigrants, Patrick Joseph McGoohan was born March 19, 1928, in the New York borough of Queens. Six months later, the family moved to a farm in Ireland and later to Sheffield, England, where Mr. McGoohan was mostly raised.

In the late 1940s, he became stage manager of a repertory acting company in Sheffield. He turned to acting and in 1951 married a fellow cast member, Joan Drummond. She survives, along with three daughters, including actress Catherine McGoohan; three sisters; five grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

Mr. McGoohan made his London stage debut in 1955 in a West End production called "Serious Charge" as a priest accused of homosexuality. His work impressed Orson Welles, who cast him as Starbuck in the staging of "Moby Dick Rehearsed."

Mr. McGoohan won a London critics honor for his work in the title role of a 1959 stage production of Henrik Ibsen's play "Brand." This led to his offer of the leading role in "Danger Man," which made him one of the highest-paid actors on British television.

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