Two years ago, I was thrilled to hear about the new Starz TV series Spartacus: Blood and Sand. naturally, I’m a sucker for any programme or film set in ancient times, especially if it’s about someone as iconic as Spartacus. I watched the first two programmes on the Starz website, and thought that they were tremendous. Yes, they played fast and loose with historical fact, but the world portrayed therein was quite similar to Rome in the first century BC: it was very violent, accepting of slavery, gladiatorial combat and war. The sets were well created, and the actors were convincing. John Hannah finally shed the memories of his role in Four Weddings, and Lucy Lawless was way better than she was in Xena. Best of all, however, there was the stand out actor – Andy Whitfield. If there were ever huge shoes (or sandals) to step into, they belonged to Spartacus. He is not only one of the most memorable figures in world history, but he was played brilliantly by the square-chinned Kirk Douglas in Kubrick’s classic film. In 2010, Andy Whitfield assumed the mantle with ease.
Although I still haven’t seen the rest of series one of Blood and Sand (thought it best to steer clear until I’d written my books), I was convinced after just two episodes that Andy Whitfield had seized the role of Spartacus for himself. He was damn convincing too – charismatic, nuanced, and brave. I anticipated with great excitement how he would carry on the role through the series. Personally, I’ve only seen Kubrick’s film once, so for me Andy Whitfield had already become Spartacus. I think if he had lived to continue playing the part, he would have made the series into even more of an international hit than it has been.
To hear last year that Andy had been diagnosed with non Hodgkins lymphoma, a particularly nasty type of cancer, was a shock of the first order. Although most people talked about his recovery, and I sincerely wished for it too, I knew from my veterinary/medical experience that his chances weren’t good. Starz was good to him while he was ill, which I thought showed the channel’s integrity. Gods of the Arena, a short series and a prequel to series one, was filmed without him so that he could be ready for series two. Sadly, his illness recurred and he had to withdraw from filming. We heard little from then on, until the announcement of his tragic death on the 11th of September. Andy Whitfield was just 39 years old. He leaves Vashti, his wife, and Jesse and Indigo, his young children, behind. I can only imagine the size of the gap he has left in their lives, and my thoughts are with them at this sad, dark time.
He will not be forgotten, however. Andy Whitfield will forever live on in our minds as the most famous gladiator of all time.
And if there was ever a warrior who deserved to enter Elysium, it was Andy Whitfield.
Spartacus, I salute you!