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Should Starz achieve its goal of becoming a premium cable destination on par with HBO and Showtime,  it will be “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” that will be credited for sending it on its way. The action series has been granted gravitas by a number of great performances – including that of its late star Andy Whitfield. To acknowledge Whitfield’s work, Starz announced on Friday that it will pay tribute to him on October 2, airing five back-to-back episodes including the season premiere and the finale. The mini-marathon starts at 9pm ET/PT.

Whitfield‘s career was just beginning to take off when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in March 2010. Although the Wales-born star had a few key movie and TV roles under his belt, it was his titular role  “Spartacus” that had him poised to break out as a major star.

Sadly, that was not to be. Whitfield passed away on September 11 in his home in Australia. He was 39 years old.

The actor’s passing shocked fans who had heard in the summer in 2010 that he was cancer-free and ready to return to acting. As late as September 2010, he had reportedly been prepping for the show’s second season (titled “Spartacus: Vengeance”) when it was announced that he was stepping away to resume treatment. The role of Spartacus then went to Liam McIntyre, who told reporters late this summer that Whitfield called to congratulate him and offer advice on the role.

Starz will repeat of the entire season of “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” on December 16, 2011  prior to the premiere of “Spartacus: Vengeance”  in January 2012.