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Wicker Man, Equalizer actor Edward Woodward dies

By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - British actor Edward Woodward, best known for roles in 1973 cult classic "The Wicker Man" and U.S. television series "The Equalizer," died Monday aged 79.

His agent Janet Glass said the veteran of stage and screen had been ill for several months and passed away in hospital surrounded by members of his family.

"I knew him a very long time and he was a superb human being," Glass told Reuters.

"That integrity shone through in the roles he played. I can't ever remember, in all the productions he undertook, anyone having a bad word to say about him and he never had anything bad to say about anyone else either."

Woodward played police sergeant Neil Howie in occult thriller The Wicker Man, a story of his search for a missing girl on an isolated island.

The movie, famous for its final scene in which Howie is burned alive, also starred Christopher Lee and Britt Ekland.

That part came in the wake of his appearances in the British spy series "Callan," Woodward's big breakthrough into television and movie acting.

In the series, which ran from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, Woodward played a rebellious British secret agent in a role that echoed his most successful U.S. venture, playing Robert McCall in the hit 1980s show The Equalizer.

The show won him a Golden Globe in 1987 for best performance by an actor in a television drama series, although according to the BBC, the actor regretted making The Equalizer because of the toll it took on his health including a major heart attack.

Woodward also earned acclaim for the 1980 Australian film "Breaker Morant," about the murder trial of a lieutenant serving in the Second Boer War.

As well as on-screen success, Woodward was a proven singer and stage actor, and was singled out by Laurence Olivier to appear in the title role of a National Theater production of "Cyrano."

According to Glass, Noel Coward also chose the actor to star in the Broadway show "High Spirits," the musical version of "Blite Spirit," and Woodward recorded 12 solo albums.

The actor's final on-screen appearance was earlier this year in the popular British soap opera "EastEnders."

Woodward is survived by his wife, the English actress Michele Dotrice, and four children -- one by Doltrice and three from a previous marriage.

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato).

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