Obituary: Patrick McGoohan

Patrick McGoohan as The PrisonerSad news: actor Patrick McGoohan – who produced and starred in the esoteric cult show THE PRISONER in the 1960s – has died. From the Associated Press obituary by Andrew Dalton:

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Patrick McGoohan, an Emmy-winning actor who created and starred in the cult classic television show “The Prisoner,” has died. He was 80.

McGoohan died Tuesday in Los Angeles after a short illness, his son-in-law, film producer Cleve Landsberg, said Wednesday.

McGoohan won two Emmys for his work on the Peter Falk detective drama “Columbo,” and more recently appeared as King Edward Longshanks in the 1995 Mel Gibson film “Braveheart.”

But he was best known as the title character Number Six in “The Prisoner,” a surreal 1960s British series in which a former spy is held captive in a small village and constantly tries to escape.

McGoohan’s career was too varied for him to be typecast as a genre star, but he did have a handful of impressive credits in science fiction, fantasy, and horror films, including THE PHANTOM, BABY: SECRET OF THE LOST LEGEND, and David Cronenberg’s SCANNERS. Other credits include multiple appearances on the COLUMBO mystery show, the cruel warden in the Clint Eastwood film ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ, and the crazy king in 1995’s Best Picture of the Year, BRAVEHEART.

But McGoohan’s biggest contribution to the genre was the television show THE PRISONER. A sort of unofficial follow-up to his previous hit spy series DANGER MAN (known as SECRET AGENT MAN in the U.S.), THE PRISONER began as a fairly conventional if cryptic tale of a spy who quits his organization and is kidnapped and taken to an isolated facility known simply as The Village. The unanswered question of this short-lived classic is whether the spy (who is known only as Number Six) has been incarcerated by an enemy organization or by his own people for fear that he would defect.

As the show progressed through its seventeen episodes, it became less of a straight-forward spy story and more of a surreal nightmare, a la TWIN PEAKS (which began as a murder mystery and turned into…something else). The stories became more bizarre, the connection to verisimilitude more tenuous. Metaphor and symbolism became more important than logic, and the whole thing wound up on a completely fantastic note (SPOILER: when the masks is finally pulled away from the man running the village, it is the face of the Prionser himself).

By virtue of leaving so much unexplained or open to interpretation, McGoohan guaranteed that THE PRISONER would become cult item. Proof of the lasting appeal came in the SIMPSONS episode “The Computer Wore Menace Shoes,” for which McGoohan provided the voice of “Number Six,” the only name by which his character in THE PRISONER is known.

McGoohan’s last credit was as a voice actor for the 2002 Disney animated film TEASURE PLANET.

About the Author

Steve Biodrowski

Cinefantastique's Los Angeles Correspondent from 1987 to 1993 and West Coast Editor from 1993 to 1999. Currently the webmaster of Cinefantastique Online, I also run a website called Hollywood Gothique that covers Halloween Horror and Sci-Fi Cinema Events in the Los Angeles area.

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