Andy Whitfield, former star of the sword-and-sandals drama Spartacus: Blood and Sand, passed away Sunday in Sydney, Australia, 18 months after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He was 39.
"He passed peacefully surrounded by love," his wife Vashti said in a statement to The Associated Press. "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."
Born in Wales, Whitfield moved in 1999 to Australia, where he appeared in several television dramas before landing the role of the legendary Thracian slave in the Starz drama.
He starred in all 13 episodes of the first season in 2010, and was getting ready to shoot the second when he was diagnosed with cancer, delaying production. That led Starz to order a prequel miniseries, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, to bridge the gap between seasons and allow Whitfield time to recover. The actor appeared in July 2010 at Comic-Con International, where he announced that he had been declared cancer-free and cleared to return to work. However, two months later Whitfield revealed the cancer had returned. After a three-month search for a new Spartacus, the network announced in January that Australian actor Liam McIntyre would step into the role in the second season, which premieres in January.
In addition to his wife Vashti, Whitield is survived by two children.
"No words to express the depth of such a loss," Spartacus creator Steven DeKnight wrote last night on Twitter. "You will be deeply missed, my brother."
In a statement to Entertainment Weekly, Spartacus co-star Lucy Lawless described Whitfield as "a gentle man who never said a bad word about anyone." "Andy’s incandescent film presence made men want to be him and women want to marry him," she continued. "Andy’s two babies will always know that their Daddy cherished them and their mother, Vashti, above all things. How lucky we were to have him grace all our lives. Godspeed, Andy!”