Andy Whitfield, aka Spartacus, dies of lymphoma at age 39

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Dec 15, 2012, 11:18 AM EST

Sadly, Andy Whitfield, who starred as the lead character in Starz' Spartacus: Blood and Sand, died yesterday in Sydney, Australia, only 18 months after he'd been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

"On a beautiful sunny Sydney spring morning, surrounded by his family, in the arms of his loving wife, our beautiful young warrior Andy Whitfield lost his 18 month battle with lymphoma cancer," Whitfield's wife Vashti said in a statement. "He passed peacefully surrounded by love. 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."

Starz president and CEO Chris Albrecht said in a statement Sunday night: "We are deeply saddened by the loss of our dear friend and colleague, Andy Whitfield. We were fortunate to have worked with Andy in Spartacus and came to know that the man who played a champion on-screen was also a champion in his own life."

The Australian actor was unknown when he was cast in the lead role as the Thracian slave Spartacus in the hit Starz series, which was known for its violence, nudity and sexuality. While preparing for the second season of Spartacus, Whitfield was diagnosed with cancer. Although he seemed to beat the disease initially when the cancer went into remission, it came back.

Starz worked around Whitfield's illness initially and produced a prequel to Spartacus: Blood and Sand called Spartacus: Gods of the Arena. When it became apparent that Whitfield would not be able to continue in January, he was replaced by Australian actor Liam McIntyre.

Goodbye, Andy Whitfield. Somehow we don't think the next round of Spartacus will be the same without you. Rest in peace.

(via Associated Press)