They called him the “thinking man’s Rambo” thanks to his brawny roles in deeply textured thrillers. He nabbed awards like they were going out of style. And, according to Noel Coward, his surname sounds like a fart in the bath. “Noel Coward claimed he said it, but then so did Laurence Olivier!” laughs Edward Woodward. “I still don’t know which one of them came up with it, but it was always enough for me that these two great men battled over who did!”
Icon. Legend. Gent. Want proof? Take a look at Woodward’s nuanced, chilling performance in the original ‘70s Wicker Man. Now compare it with Nicholas Cage’s ridiculous, eye-rolling emulation in the dreadful noughties remake. Edward Woodward, other than having the best name this side of Ivana Trump, was always a fighter. He gained international notoriety for doing just that in both The Equalizer, the ‘80s series about a CIA agent turned gun-for-hire that bagged him a Golden Globe, and ITV’s ‘60s crime drama Callan.
But he was a fighter off-screen, too, surviving two heart attacks, a triple heart bypass and prostate cancer before finally succumbing to pneumonia on 16 November. These tough-as-old-boots, salt-of-the-earth trappings meant that Woodward became well-known for his heartfelt portrayals of authoritative figures in the throes of personal crises. Throughout his career, he retained a genuine affection for television; it’s fitting that his penultimate on-screen performance was in EastEnders. “I embarrassed myself by throwing my arms around Pam St Clement and saying ‘How are you?’” the actor recalls. “As I walked away, I realised I’d never met her before in my life. Like any other viewer, I think I know these people.”
And we felt that we knew him, too. A Croydon native who simply “made good”, Woodward’s tentative boyhood steps into acting (after a brief dalliance with journalism) resulted in a career that spanned over 60 years, and involved 2,000 film and television roles. He also boasts 10 solo albums to his name, and, at the time of his death aged 79, remains one of the few British actors with a career to successfully straddle the Atlantic.
So was he really as tough as all that? “I don’t mind acting it, but I’m not going to do it for real!” he laughed once. “I’m just an actor from Croydon.” So passes a true ledge.
Via Total Film