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Patrick McGoohan

Updated on July 27, 2016

Patrick McGoohan (March 19, 1928 – January 13, 2009) was an American-born actor raised in Ireland and England, McGoohan was very popular on British and American TV in 1950’s and 1960’s, most particularly the “Danger Man” and “The Prisoner” series.

He made an extraordinary impact on television history, a two-time Emmy Award-winning actor, McGoohan‘s career spanned the stage, screen and TV. Gaining early praise in the 1950’s from Orson Wells who cast him as Starbuck in his York theatre production of “Moby Dick Rehearsed,” Wells was quite impressed by McGoohan's stage presence ("intimidated," Welles said later). Patrick McGoohan was talented, independent, dynamitic, had a satirical wit, and a captivating presence which he impart to every role he played.

Born in New York his parents moved back to Ireland and England when he was less than a year old. He was considering becoming a Roman Catholic priest until he was fifteen. By the time he was in his twenties, McGoohan had joined the Sheffield Repertory Theatre in the early 1950’s, began his acting career there, and met and married his future wife, Joan Drummond.

Soon after he signed a movie contract with the Rank Organization, which unfortunately gave him lackluster parts for many years, but once he was free of that McGoohan returned to what he enjoyed most which was the stage. While on the stage he was discovered by producer Lew Grade who had him in mind to play a spy on TV.

Becoming the secret agent in Danger Man.

McGoohan clearly had the makings of a leading man, charismatic, tall, blond, and blue-eyed. He became instantly popular as the secret agent John Drake, on the series “Danger Man” (1960-61), a half-hour espionage show geared toward American audience on CBS. McGoohan played a government agent who’s accent was neutral enough to sound comfortable with American or British dialogue.

He insisted on having several changes for the part before he signed any contract that his character would always use his head first, rather thinking his way out of a problem before using any gun or violence, and no romance every week, no kissing. McGoohan did this on moral reasons and actually made the show more interesting. The show was cancel after one year but later returned gaining cult status worldwide.

James Bond and other roles McGoohan was offered.

McGoohan was first choice for “James Bond” before Sean Connery. But he turns this role down because of ethical objections. McGoohan had three daughters and wanted to have good role models for them. He was later offered the role of Simon Templar as “The Saint” and turned it down, and it ultimately went to Roger Moore in 1962.

McGoohan started working for Disney in 1963 and has later quoted as saying “I've rarely liked anything I've done, apart from my work as John Drake and two films I made for Walt Disney……” The two films were “The Three Lives of Thomasina” (1963) a sentimental fantasy film and “The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh” (1964).

Soon after Lew Grade contacted him and asked if he would return as John Drake in a new show. McGoohan agreed but made extensive changes to the part, expanding the series to one hour, and giving his character more range. The new series renamed “Secret Agent” (1964-66) became an international hit. Even spawning the popular theme song “Secret Agent Man” by Johnny Rivers with session guitarist Eric Clapton.

The success of The Prisoner and feature films.

But by the fourth season McGoohan wanted to quit and start a new show. A complex ambitious project about a retired secret agent taken to a prison paradise. Known only as Number 6 and never mentioning his real name. “The Prisoner” (1967-68) went on to gained cult status around the world. McGoohan co-created and executive-produced the series, wrote, starred in the show, and directed several episodes under pseudonyms like Paddy Fitz and Joseph Serf. Each episode of this enigmatic series is mind-blowing and surrealistic.

McGoohan went to America to film “Ice Station Zebra” (1968) starring Rock Hudson, Ernest Borgine, and Jim Brown. Based on the Cold War action-thriller novel by Alistair MacLean and is reported to be Howard Hughes’s favorite film. McGoohan was still desired to be the next James Bond, a potentially international star-making role for “On Her Majesty's Secret Service“ for which Sean Connery refused to do. But he rejected this on convictions and later moved to southern California instead. Eventually the role would go to the next contender, Roger Moore, who was finally free to be Bond in “Live and Let Die.”

McGoohan worked extensively in film and TV for America and England in the 1970‘s. He directed and wrote in many shows like Peter Falk's TV detective series "Columbo," for which McGoohan won Emmys in 1974 and 1990. In “Silver Streak” (1976) with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. He appeared in David Cronenberg’s “Scanners” (1981) a science fiction horror film starring Jennifer O’Neill and Michael Ironside. Mel Gibson directed him in “Braveheart” as Edward Longshanks in 1995. He played Billy Zane’s father in the film “The Phantom” (1996). He reprised his role of Number 6 on “The Simpsons” in 2000. McGoohan did his last film in a voice role for the “Treasure Planet” animated film released in 2002.

McGoohan leaves us with a distinguish legacy of past roles.

In 2002 Patrick McGoohan received the “Prometheus Hall of Fame Award” by The Libertarian Futurist Society for best classic literary works for “The Prisoner” TV show. McGoohan will forever be remembered as the Secret Agent/John Drake, and as Number 6. He is considered by many fans today as a better Bond who carried no gun and avoided any romantic entanglements. A true rebel with wit and charm. Many of his past roles have gained cult status worldwide.

McGoohan was also first choice to play both Gandalf in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and than again as Dumbledore in the "Harry Potter" films, but turned down both roles, most likely due to his failing health at this time. Through most of his acting life McGoohan was underrated and misunderstood as an actor, yet he was very talented, respected, and beloved by friends and fans.

His friend Peter Falk had said watching him was “mesmerizing” as an actor. He could make any role his own and believable. He was far more convincing as a secret agent than any Bond out there. McGoohan died on a Tuesday in 2009 at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica after a short illness, he was 80.


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