Patrick McGoohan, 80; TV’s “The Prisoner”

Patrick McGoohan, the Emmy Award-winning actor who in the late 1960s created, produced and starred in the cult-classic television series ‘The Prisoner,’ died on January 13. The longtime Pacific Palisades resident was 80. At the peak of James Bond’s popularity in 1965, the multi-talented McGoohan appeared as John Drake in the CBS series ‘Secret Agent’ (known in Britain as ‘Danger Man’). ”Secret Agent’ was the first British series ever filmed for American primetime,’ McGoohan’s widow, Joan Drummond McGoohan told the Palisadian-Post. ‘It was a huge hit. It gave him a lot of clout.’ Enter ‘The Prisoner,’ a British-produced program on CBS in 1968 and 1969. McGoohan played the enigmatic erstwhile secret agent, No. 6, who one day wakes up in his prison, an island with a manufactured township called The Village, teeming with surveillance equipment. The show resembled an Orwellian exercise of surreal paranoia. ‘Patrick wrote the first script,’ said Joan, his wife of 58 years. ‘He outlined the stories. Technically, there was a story editor, but it was rubbish. He wrote a lot of them, even under different names: Archibald Schwartz, Paddy Fitz.’ She singled out the penultimate episode, which McGoohan wrote, as having ‘some of the best acting I’ve ever seen on television.’ She remembered how unhappy viewers were with the final installment, which purposely left the show’s running MacGuffin unresolved. ‘People were furious,’ she said. ‘They thought they would find out who No. 1 was. It was too surreal for most people.’ ”The Prisoner’ summed up what he felt,’ Joan McGoohan continued. ‘He thought it was very contemporary. He was an independent thinker. He followed all world happenings, the Middle East. He was a brilliant mind. All sorts of people, when they met him, they listened. Where it came from, I have no idea.’ After only 17 episodes, ‘The Prisoner’ left the air. ‘In his mind, it was finished,’ Joan McGoohan said. ‘But then these fan clubs turned up.’ A cult following has since endured for decades. Later this year, American Movie Classics will air a remake of the series, starring James Caviezel and Sir Ian McKellan. ‘They wanted Patrick to have some part in it,’ McGoohan’s wife said, ‘but he adamantly didn’t want to be involved. He had already done it.’ McGoohan won two Emmys for acting in ‘Columbo’ in 1975 and 1990. He also directed episodes of the original 1970s version of Peter Falk’s program, and was very involved behind the scenes of the ‘Columbo’ TV movies that followed. Born in 1928 to Irish parents in Queens, New York, McGoohan grew up in Ireland until the age of 7, when his family moved to Sheffield, England. In the late 1940s, he became a stage manager at Sheffield Repertory Theatre, where he began acting and met actress Joan Drummond. In 1959, McGoohan received a London Drama Critics Award for his performance in Ibsen’s ‘Brand.’ ‘People who saw it had never forgot his performance, almost like some mythical thing,’ Joan McGoohan said. ‘My only regret is that he didn’t play King Lear. Laurence Olivier had called him to play at the National and he turned it down.’ But the role McGoohan treasured most can be seen in the 1991 PBS production ‘The Best of Friends,’ opposite John Gielgud, in which he portrayed a legendary Irish playwright. ‘He had his spirit,’ his wife said. ‘He was totally George Bernard Shaw, that was just transcendent. He related to Shaw’s irreverence, his humor, his underlying gravitas.’ Thanks to the 1960s’ ‘Danger Man’ series in Britain (the precursor of ‘Secret Agent’), McGoohan was offered the chance to be the original James Bond in feature films. He famously turned down the role, partly because he dreaded the level of fame it might trigger. ‘He never even thought twice about turning it down,’ Joan McGoohan said. ‘He was the obvious choice. But he thought the role was cheap. He wouldn’t carry a gun and he wouldn’t sleep with a different woman every week.’ The McGoohans moved to Pacific Palisades in the mid-1970s, with daughters Catherine, Anne and Frances; more recently, Joan has been an agent in the local Sotheby’s International Realty office. Of ‘The Prisoner”s enduring cult status, Patrick McGoohan, who played the villainous King Edward I in Mel Gibson’s 1995 film ‘Braveheart,’ once said: ‘Mel will always be Mad Max, and me, I will always be a number.’ McGoohan’s wife explained that he had clinched his role in ‘Braveheart’ by intimidating Gibson with a stare over lunch in Malibu. ‘Mel treated him beautifully as a director,’ Joan McGoohan said. Locally, the McGoohans frequented Sam’s at the Beach restaurant in Santa Monica Canyon. In the village, they dined at Modo Mio. Joan McGoohan enjoyed a laugh at the notion that, in a sense, No. 6 never left ‘the village.’ ‘He would get up at the crack of dawn, get the New York Times, and get some coffee at Mort’s or Starbucks,’ she said. ‘He wrote. Always, always.’ Although she usually sleeps in, McGoohan told the Post last Friday, ‘I got up very early today. I thought, ‘I’m doing Patrick’s routine.’ It’s just so precious, the start of the day. I’m going to try to change my routine a bit and try to enjoy those moments. ‘I feel we’ve had such wonderful times together. We were partners for life. I feel very lucky.’ In addition to his wife and daughters, McGoohan is survived by five grandchildren and a great-grandson. Private services were held on Monday.