Edward Woodward dies at 79; British actor starred in ‘The Equalizer,’ ‘Breaker Morant’


Edward Woodward, the British actor who starred in the 1980s detective TV series “The Equalizer” and the movies “Breaker Morant” and “The Wicker Man,” has died. He was 79.

Woodward, who had suffered from pneumonia and other illnesses, died Monday in a hospital in Truro, Cornwall, England, said TV producer Ned Nalle, Woodward’s brother-in-law.

A graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art who launched his career on stage in 1946, Woodward starred in “The Equalizer” on CBS from 1985 to 1989.


He received five Emmy nominations and won a Golden Globe for his role as Robert McCall, a disillusioned former secret agent using his skills to help people who had nowhere else to turn to get justice.

As McCall’s newspaper ad put it: “Got a problem? Odds against you? Call the Equalizer.”

“Edward was brilliant in his portrayal of Robert McCall,” said Richard Lindheim, co-creator of the series. “One of the reasons for it is you felt beneath what he was doing the sadness and the pain that had driven him to do this.

“The brilliance of his performance was not always what he said but the emotion in his eyes and in his behavior. And that’s the real mark of a wonderful actor: the ability to convey emotion and have you understand his feelings without having to say a line of dialogue.”

At one point during the run of “The Equalizer,” a survey found that Woodward, well into his 50s and with graying hair and a slight paunch, outranked Don Johnson of “Miami Vice” and Ken Wahl of “Wiseguy” in what one journalist described as “the sexy-detective stakes.”

“I take this with great humor,” Woodward told Australia’s the Sun Herald with a raucous laugh in 1989. “I’m the one who gets up in the morning and looks in the mirror, and I don’t see a sex symbol. I’m at a loss to see why women see me as a sex symbol. But that’s their problem.”

Woodward had become a household name in Britain as the star of “Callan,” a hit spy series that ran from 1967 to 1972 in which he played a British counterintelligence agent/assassin. He reprised the role in the 1974 movie of the same name.


He also starred in the 1973 British cult thriller “The Wicker Man,” in which he played a police sergeant who is sent to a remote Scottish island to investigate a missing girl and discovers that the locals are practicing pagans.

At the time “The Equalizer” debuted, Woodward may have been best known in this country for playing the title role in “Breaker Morant,” director Bruce Beresford’s acclaimed 1980 film about three Australian lieutenants on trial for murdering Boer prisoners during the Boer War in South Africa at the turn of the 20th century.

“He was sensational in that part,” said Beresford. “He’s an actor with a tremendous emotional range.”

Beresford, who also worked with Woodward on the films “King David” and “Mister Johnson,” said he “was lovely to work with. He was very unpretentious and had a remarkably easy manner” -- an assessment echoed by Lindheim.

“In person, he was a wonderful, warm raconteur who told great stories where he would play every role and would keep you in laughter for hours,” said Lindheim.

Woodward also starred in the 1990-91 CBS series “Over My Dead Body,” playing an English mystery writer and amateur sleuth teamed with a San Francisco newspaper obituary writer played by Jessica Lundy.

Born June 1, 1930, in Croydon, Surrey, England, he attended Kingston College and entered the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art at age 16.

As a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, he played roles in “Romeo and Juliet,” “Hamlet,” “Pericles” and “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Other West End parts included the title role in “Cyrano de Bergerac” and Flamineo in “The White Devil,” both for the Royal National Theatre in London under Laurence Olivier.

He also appeared on Broadway, including in “High Spirits,” a 1964 musical comedy version of Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit,” with Tammy Grimes and Beatrice Lillie.

Woodward, who was named an officer of the Order of the British Empire, also recorded 12 solo albums as a singer and won an Emmy as host of the 1989 documentary “Remembering World War II.”

He is survived by his second wife, actress Michele Dotrice; their daughter, Emily Woodward Wakem; his three children from his first marriage to actress Venetia Barrett, actors Tim, Peter and Sarah Woodward; and six grandchildren.