Edward Woodward

Edward Woodward

Born in Croydon, England, Woodward was raised in a working-class home by his father, Edward, a metal worker, and his mother, Violet. Despite his blue collar roots and the onset of World War II, Woodward set his sights on becoming an actor, though he was also enamored with becoming a footballer. After graduating from Kingston College once the war was over, he attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where he studied performance with Dame Irene Vanburgh and later voice with Ernest Urbach. Following his stage debut with the Farnham Repertory Theatre in a production of "A Kiss for Cinderella" (1946), Woodward performed for various troupes around Scotland and England before finding a home at the Croyden Repertory Theatre in 1953, where he essayed some 36 different roles. He soon made his London stage debut as Ralph in the comedy "Where There's a Will" (1954) and reprised the role in the 1955 film adaptation, which also marked the beginning of his onscreen career. That same year, Woodward made his television debut on "The Vaudeville Show" (ITV, 1955). Having made his entry into film and television, Woodward continued to work steadily on stage throughout Europe and in America, alternating between the classics, contemporary plays and musical comedies. After the West End productions of "Romeo and Juliet" (1958) and "Hamlet" (1958), he had a small role in the British farce, "Inn for Trouble" (1960), and followed that by making his stage directorial debut with "Rattle of a Simple Man" (1961), which made its way to Broadway in 1963. The following year, he had a small part opposite such British heavyweights as Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole and John Gielgud in "Becket" (1964), a historical epic that chronicled the friendship and later animosity between King Henry II (O'Toole) and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket (Burton). A few years later, he landed his first lead in the espionage drama, "Callan" (ITV, 1967-1972), playing the top assassin for British counterintelligence who begrudgingly engages in assassinations, blackmail and other black operations for both Queen and country. During his time on the show, Woodward earned considerable acclaim for his performance as Sydney Carton in "Two Cities" (1969), a musical adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.After being handpicked by Laurence Olivier to play the titular "Cyrano de Bergerac" (1971) for the National Theatre, Woodward starred in "Sitting Target" (1972), a violent British crime thriller about a convicted murderer (Oliver Reed) and a fellow inmate (Ian McShane) who bust out of prison, only to be hunted down by a determined police inspector (Woodward). Following a small part in "Young Winston" (1972), which chronicled the life of a young Winston Churchill (Simon Ward), he had perhaps his most recognizable film role, starring in the dark and strange horror thriller, "The Wicker Man" (1973). Woodward played Sergeant Howie, a priggish police inspector sent to a secluded Scottish isle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. What he encounters instead is a cultish society that indulges in open sexuality, pagan worship and even witchcraft. Repulsed by the alternative society's practices, Howie runs afoul of their charming, but eccentric leader (Christopher Lee), as he finds out firsthand that his own righteous beliefs will not be tolerated in an ending that was both horrific and perfectly executed.Woodward next reprised his television role as "Callan" (1975) for a British-made feature version, which he followed by returning to the stage for productions of "Male of the Species" (1975), "On Approval" (1976) and "The Dark Horse" (1978). After becoming a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1978, he reached international acclaim for his performance in "Breaker Morant" (1980), perhaps one of the best films to have emerged from Australia. Woodward played the titular Henry "Breaker" Morant, an Englishman living Down Under in the 19th century who volunteers for service when war breaks out between the British and the Boers. Tasked with executing several prisoners, Morant oversees the killing of a German national, forcing the British government to keep the peace by offering to court martial him and two other soldiers, resulting in Morant's own execution. Powerful and unflinching in its anti-war themes, "Breaker Morant" was also superbly acted, with Woodward walking a fine line between maintaining his dignity and erupting in anger over the injustice. The actor followed with stage roles in "The Assassin" (1982) and "Richard III" (1982), as well as a supporting role in the British-made espionage thriller, "Who Dares Wins" (1982). In "Love Is Forever" (NBC, 1983), he starred opposite a miscast Michael Landon, who played a real-life journalist who goes undercover in Laos in 1978 to help rescue a Laotian girl. He next appeared as the jealous and wrathful Saul in the big screen treatment of the biblical story of "King David" (1985), which he followed by playing the Ghost of Christmas Present in "A Christmas Carol" (CBS, 1984) and Merlin in "Arthur the King" (CBS, 1985). Woodward had his most recognizable role of his career with "The Equalizer" (CBS, 1986-89), playing a former operative for a British intelligence organization who tries to atone for his past sins by offering gratis his services as a vigilante to those in need. Roaming the streets of New York, he sought justice on a wide array of criminals - rapists, murderers, drug dealers, kidnappers - usually by inflicting violence with a variety of weapons. Though not a ratings blockbuster, the show earned a considerable cult following. While just a few episodes into the third season, Woodward - a lifetime smoker - suffered a massive coronary, leaving him and the show in jeopardy. The writers concocted a story that his character had been shot while Robert Mitchum was called to fill in. Woodward recovered and went on to star in the role for the next two seasons. Meanwhile, he earned considerable acclaim as well as five consecutive Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series from 1986-1990. He also won a Golden Globe Award for the role in 1987. Following a strong turn as the evil Simon Legree in "Uncle Tom's Cabin" (Showtime, 1987), Woodward made his second attempt at series television with "Over My Dead Body" (CBS, 1990-91), in which he attempted to create a male version of the network's hit, "Murder, She Wrote." Playing a cranky British mystery writer suffering from writer's block, Woodward gave the role a good go, but audiences were uninterested and the series was canceled after 11 episodes. After starring Sherlock Holmes in "Hands of a Murder" (CBS, 1990), he co-starred opposite Pierce Brosnan as a hard-drinking, bigoted Englishman in colonial Africa in "Mister Johnson" (1991). Preferring television to any other medium - he once laid claim to having done a couple thousand small screen projects in his career - Woodward took on the role of retired Scotland Yard detective Edward 'Teddy' Harrison in two made-for-television movies, "The Shamrock Conspiracy" (UPN, 1995) and "Harrison: Cry of the City" (UPN, 1996). He followed with a small turn as Drunlo in a small screen miniseries adaptation of "Gulliver's Travels" (NBC, 1996), starring Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen. Also that year, Woodward underwent triple bypass surgery following a second heart attack, which inspired him to promptly quit smoking cigarettes.About this time, Woodward's work output began to slow down as his health went into slow decline. He did continue to perform, starring in the short-lived British spy series, "CI5: The New Professionals" (Sky1, 1999), in which he played the leader of a team working for the fictional government agency CI5. Following an episode of the sci-fi action series, "Crusade" (TNT, 1999), he had a co-starring role in the British series, "Messiah" (BBC One, 2001), which followed a DCI officer (Ken Stott) who investigates serial murders. He next had a recurring arc as Flavius during the fifth season of the action-packed spy drama, "La Femme Nikita" (USA Network, 1997-2001). After a supporting part in the mystery drama, "Five Days" (BBC/HBO, 2007), he was one of the members of the Neighborhood Watch Alliance in the British action comedy "Hot Fuzz" (2007), written by and starring Simon Pegg. Making a rare turn into soap opera territory, he landed a 2009 episode of the long-running "Eastenders" (BBC One, 1985-). In his last role before his death, Woodward starred in "A Congregation of Ghosts" (2009), playing the real life Reverend Frederick Densham, a pious missionary in India who returns home to England where he tries to educate a prejudiced society about Indian culture and religion. Though diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003, Woodward was able to maintain a steady workload for the remaining years of his life. Then on Nov. 16, 2009, Woodward died of pneumonia surrounded by friends and family while at hospital in Cornwall, England. He was 79.