LOS ANGELES -- Andy Whitfield, who appeared in the Starz period drama "Spartacus: Blood and Sand," has died, the network confirmed.

Whitfield died Sunday of non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in Sydney, Australia. He was 39.

His wife, Vashti Whitfield, in a statement called her husband a "beautiful young warrior" who lost his 18-month battle with lymphoma cancer. Whitfield appeared as the gladiator hero in the first season of the cable series but stepped down from the role before the second season because of his illness.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of our dear friend and colleague, Andy Whitfield," said Starz President and CEO Chris Albrecht in a statement. "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. Andy was an inspiration to all of us as he faced this very personal battle with courage, strength and grace. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time. He will live on in the hearts of his family, friends and fans."

The network last January said that Australian actor Liam McIntyre had been enlisted to take over the role.

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"It's hard. You kind of wish you didn't have the opportunity," McIntyre said at this year's Comic-Con about taking on the role. "The best thing I can do is bust my [butt] . . . and honor the legacy."

"Spartacus: Vengeance" is slated to premiere in January. Whitfield -- who was born in Wales and lived in Australia -- was a virtual unknown when he was cast as the title hero in "Spartacus," a hit original series for the Starz network that made waves with its graphic violence and sexuality.

Whitfield was preparing for the second season when he was diagnosed 18 months ago.