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It’s truly a sad day not only in Sparta, but in all of the land. Yesterday, at the young age of 39, Andy Whitfield, the leading man on the Starz network’s 2010 hit series Spartacus: Blood And Sand, passed away from non-Hodgkin lymphoma, 18 months after he was first diagnosed with the disease.

Before winning the part of the titular Spartacus on the brutal and enthralling show, Whitfield, born in Wales before spending the majority of his life in Australia, was virtually unknown, but his work on the 13 Blood And Sand episodes established him as not only a legitimate action hero, but also one of the year’s biggest breakout stars. But once he became afflicted by lymphoma, Whitfield was forced to take time off from the series, prompting Starz to launch the six-episode prequel, Spartacus: Gods Of The Arena, earlier this year; Whitfield provided voiceover narration for one episode, but didn’t physically appear in the series.

In January, as the actor’s condition worsened, Starz had no choice but to recast the Spartacus role for Blood And Sand’s long-awaited second season, set to premiere in early 2012; his successor will be Australian actor Liam McIntyre.

In a statement, Whitfield’s wife, Vashti, said, “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. 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."

In his own statement, Starz President and CEO Chris Albrecht eulogized the actor with, "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."

Our best wishes go out to Whitfield’s family. If you’ve yet to get into Spartacus, pick up the Blood And Sand DVD as soon as you can—it’s damn good entertainment, and Whitfield made for a superb, sword-wielding hero. He will be missed.

[Via Yahoo!]