In the arena as Spartacus, he was invincible. But in real life, former Spartacus: Blood and Sand star Andy Whitfield has lost his battle with cancer. The Welsh-born actor, who was beloved by fans of Starz’s gladiator drama, passed away today in Sydney, Australia, where he had lived since 1999. “On a beautiful sunny Sydney spring morning, surrounded by his family, in the arms of his loving wife, our beautiful young warrior Andy Whitfield lost his 18-month battle with lymphoma cancer,” Whitfield’s wife Vashti said in a statement. “He passed peacefully surrounded by love. Thank you to all his fans whose love and support have help carry him to this point. He will be remembered as the inspiring, courageous and gentle man, father and husband he was.” Whitfield was 39.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of our dear friend and colleague, Andy Whitfield,” Starz president and CEO Chris Albrecht said in a statement. “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. Andy was an inspiration to all of us as he faced this very personal battle with courage, strength and grace. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time. He will live on in the hearts of his family, friends and fans.” Added Spartacus creator Steven DeKnight via Twitter, “No words to express the depth of such a loss. You will be deeply missed, my brother.”
Whitfield got his big break when he was cast as the title character on Spartacus: Blood and Sand. But during a routine checkup in March 2010 just before production on Season 2 was to begin, he was diagnosed with what was described at the time as treatable Stage 1 non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Production was put on hold while Whitfield underwent treatment. He eventually went into remission and was days away from starting filming on Season 2 when his cancer came back and he had to resume aggressive treatment. Despite that, he remained positive, while the Spartacus role was eventually recast with Liam McIntyre.
In June 2010, when he had just been given a clean bill of health after his first round of cancer treatment and was actively training for his return to the show, Whitfield did an interview with Deadline in which he talked about his illness. “After the initial shock — I was a healthy young man and had no idea that this could happen — it was frustrating that the first season was ending on such a high note and we could’ve been rolling into Season 2.” But after that initial shock came “time to heal, figure things out and spend time with my family,” he said. The experience taught him some important lessons, he said, like: “Stay in the now and enjoy every moment.”