'Secret Agent' Patrick McGoohan Dies At 80

Correction Jan. 15, 2009

The story described Patrick McGoohan as "British-born." In fact, he was born in the New York borough of Queens.

Actor Patrick McGoohan played a number of memorable roles, from King Edward Longshanks in Braveheart to Number Six in the TV show The Prisoner. But host Neal Conan remembers him best as the star of the 1960s program Secret Agent.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

News this morning that Patrick McGoohan died in Los Angeles. You might remember the British born actor for his role as King Edward Longshanks in Mel Gibson's "Braveheart." A few might remember his Emmy-winning turns as a guest star on "Columbo" with Peter Falk, and many will remember him as number six in "The Prisoner," a television show much loved by paranoids everywhere about men and women incarcerated in a very strange town by whom and why, they never know, a show he created as well as stared in.

But those of a certain age will best remember Patrick McGoohan as the star of television's first attempt to cash in on the James Bond phenomenon in the 1960s, "Secret Agent." As John Drake, McGoohan established new standards of cool, not Sean Connery cool maybe, but some people's parents had qualms about letting their kids go to a 007 movie. And the books, well, the books were out of the question, which is one of those rare occasions when older siblings came in useful.

Like a lot of '60s TV shows, "Secret Agent" knew how to suggest impossibly exciting stuff without actually showing it. I watched an episode on tape not too many years ago and realized that the special effects and the sex were a lot more explosive in my memory than on the screen. The show was actually titled "Danger Man" when it was made in Britain and called "Destination Danger" in some other markets around the world. When it was renamed for the U.S., it also acquired a memorable theme song which did quite well on the pop charts at the time, too: "Secret Agent Man" by Johnny Rivers.

(Soundbite of song "Secret Agent Man")

Mr. JOHNNY RIVERS: (Singing) There's a man who leads a life of danger. To everyone he meets, he stays a stranger. With every move he makes another chance he takes. Odds are he won't live to see tomorrow.

Secret agent man, secret agent man, They've given you a number and taken away your name.

CONAN: Patrick McGoohan died yesterday in Los Angeles at the aged of 80. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

(Soundbite of song "Secret Agent Man")

Mr. RIVERS: (Singing) A pretty face can hide an evil mind. Ah, be careful what you say Or you'll give yourself away. Odds are you won't live to see tomorrow.

Secret agent man, secret agent man, They've given you a number and taken away your name...

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