Woodward found fame playing tough-guy roles
Monday 16 November 2009
Edward Woodward: Born June 1, 1930. Died November 16, 2009.
Actor Edward Woodward found wealth, stardom and acclaim for starring in a series of tough-guy roles, be it spies, soldiers, cops or as a score-settling private eye.
The actor enjoyed the distinction of starring in long-running TV series on both sides of the Atlantic - Callan and The Equalizer - together with a number of unforgettable movie appearances.
Few who have seen it will forget the anguished final moments of the low-budget classic The Wicker Man, in which Woodward's well-meaning police sergeant is burned alive.
Yet it was well into Woodward's career that his became a recognisable face. One of his most famous roles, as TV secret agent Callan, came along 20 years after he had first begun treading the boards in provincial theatre.
And it was almost another two decades before he landed the small screen role that cemented his celebrity status as The Equalizer.
In the US, where the series was filmed, one magazine poll voted him "the male TV star more women would like to cuddle than any other", and he was labelled a sex symbol for his portrayal of the ice cool, but charming ex-CIA agent Robert McCall - a vigilante who operates his own one-man security service.
His private life was marred by the failure of his first marriage, to actress Venetia Barrett, which ended bitterly in divorce after Woodward left her for a younger woman, actress Michele Dotrice, 16 years his junior.
After a prolonged and messy separation, his estranged wife spilled the story of their troubled marriage to a tabloid newspaper under the heading "How The Equalizer Wiped Me Out - by the wife he ditched".
Woodward spoke later of the "guilt" he felt breaking from the women he married in 1952 and with whom he had three children - Tim, Peter, and Sarah - all of whom followed in his footsteps as actors.
Edward Albert Arthur Woodward was born into a modest, working-class family in Croydon, Surrey. His father was a chicken farmer-turned metal worker.
An only child, Woodward developed an early interest in acting at school, performing in plays and reciting passages of elocution.
At 16, after being dissuaded from early ambitions to become a journalist, he won a scholarship to RADA, where he stayed a year before going into rep.
Yet it was 10 years before his acting attracted notice, when he played the part of Mercutio in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
He spent a year with the RSC in Stratford in 1958, and he was later flattered to be asked by his boyhood idol Sir Laurence Olivier to join the National Theatre.
The 1960s also saw him take a stream of bit parts before landing the role of Callan from 1967 to 1972 (reprising the part for a film in 1974).
As the cool, calculating Callan, in the Thames TV series, Woodward became the most famous spy on British television.
His seedy MI5 character, the gaunt, working-class loner with the clipped, Cockney voice and a chip on his shoulder, was a smash hit. He starred in 64 episodes.
Between series, he was a killer in The White Devil at the National Theatre (1970), the poet and swordsman Cyrano de Bergerac in another role, and then a laconic police inspector in Sitting Target, a 1972 film.
The following year he starred as the fiercely Christian policeman Sgt Neil Howie who heads to a remote pagan Scottish island. His hopeless search for a missing girl became a memorable cult hit.
By the time he was awarded an OBE, he had amassed a string of national and international acting awards.
Woodward - Teddy to his friends - won further recognition in the title role of Breaker Morant (1980), a film about Australian horsemen fighting for the British during the Boer War, and in 1984 he was the Ghost of Christmas Present, with George C Scott as Scrooge, in the TV movie of A Christmas Carol. In the Biblical epic King David (1985), he proved his versatility as Saul.
When approached by producers of The Equalizer in the mid-1980s, he later recalled reading the script and thinking: "The plot is a disaster."
And he once said he would have "hocked his house" against the series finding success.
Instead, it brought him near-millionaire status and fame both sides of the Atlantic. In New York, where episodes were shot, fans mobbed him in the street seeking autographs.
His character McCall, the steely-eyed Englishman with the sharply-cut suit and an Old Etonian accent, was dubbed a cross between Dirty Harry and an agony aunt. Despite being described as "the thinking man's Rambo", he won the acclaim of the industry when in February 1987, the role won him a prestigious Golden Globe Award for Best Actor.
As well as a keen following, with 22 episodes a year, the part also turned into his most profitable - he was paid more for one episode as The Equalizer than most British stage actors in the UK earned in a year.
He suffered a suspected heart attack in July 1987 while filming HTV's British-made spy film Kyril, in which he played an MI6 double agent and killer.
Earlier, in January, he married Dotrice, best known for her TV role opposite Michael Crawford, as Frank Spencer's wife in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em and guests at the secret New York ceremony included their daughter, Emily Beth.
Further health complications included triple bypass surgery in 1996 and prostate cancer which was diagnosed in 2003.
Despite a lower profile in the past decade, Woodward continued to act including a starring role in the revived CI5: The New Professionals, a cameo in spoof cop movie Hot Fuzz and guest roles in shows such as The Bill.
Earlier this year he appeared in a number of episodes of BBC1's EastEnders.
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