December 28, 2005 by

John Spencer


Categories: Actors

jspencer.jpgJohn Spencer, an Emmy Award-winning actor best known for playing the shrewd chief of staff on the hit NBC drama “The West Wing,” died on Dec. 16 of a heart attack. He was 58.
Born John Speshock and raised in Paterson, N.J., Spencer moved to Manhattan when he was only 16 to attend the Professional Children’s School, a private academy for youths pursuing artistic careers. In 1963, he landed a recurring role on “The Patty Duke Show” as Henry Anderson, the boyfriend of the English twin Cathy. Spencer attended Fairleigh Dickenson University in New Jersey and New York University, but dropped out of both schools in order to act.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Spencer performed in regional theatres and in off-Broadway shows. He acted in David Mamet’s “Lakeboat,” Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” and opposite Gloria Swanson in “Butterflies Are Free.” Spencer won an Obie Award in 1981 for his work in the off-Broadway production of “Still Life,” and received a Drama Desk nomination for “The Day Room.”
The actor made his feature film debut in 1980 in the film “War Games.” Small roles in “Sea of Love” and “Black Rain” soon followed. Spencer’s big break came in 1989 when he landed the part of Harrison Ford’s detective sidekick in the courtroom thriller “Presumed Innocent.” The role brought him to the attention of David E. Kelley, who invited Spencer to join the cast of the NBC legal drama “L.A. Law.” When the show ended four years later, Spencer returned to the big screen in “Forget Paris,” “The Rock,” “Albino Alligator,” “Cop Land” and “The Negotiator.”
Spencer guest starred on “Miami Vice,” “Spenser for Hire,” “Law & Order,” “Touched By An Angel” and “Lois & Clark,” among other TV shows, then landed the role that would make him a star. In 1998, he was cast as Leo McGarry, a powerful politician and right-hand man to President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet (Martin Sheen), on the NBC political drama “The West Wing.” Like his character, Spencer was known for being a loyal, kind-hearted person and recovering alcoholic. In a strange twist of fate, however, McGarry suffered a heart attack last season, one that forced him to give up his White House job. The character recovered and was picked as a running mate for Democratic presidential contender Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits).
Spencer received five Emmy nominations for his work on “The West Wing,” and won the award in 2002. The critically-acclaimed series, currently in its seventh season of production, has not announced how it plans to handles his real life death. Off the set, Spencer was an avid reader, gardener and art collector. He also participated in the New York and L.A. AIDSWalk, which benefit local clinics and AIDS patients.
Listen to an Interview With Spencer

4 Responses to John Spencer

  1. Joy Des Jardins

    Absolutely LOVED John Spencer. What a terrific actor…there was a natural ease about him. In a cast that featured one brilliant performance after another, he truly was one of West Wing’s shining stars. I’ve loved him since his days on L.A. Law; and was thrilled to see him on a weekly series again. He left us way too soon…and, he will be missed.

  2. Bridget

    Always love John Spencer,I remember him on Patty Duke playing the cousins boyfriend { I guess that dates me}Loved him as Tommy on LA Law and most greatly as Leo.
    When I heard of his death it was like losing a part of my family.So sad so young.

  3. Dexter

    Very sad news, indeed. I wasn’t familar with his acting resume prior to The West Wing but he was an excellent actor. The West Wing will not be the same without him.
    Rest in peace………..

  4. Geoff Brandner

    He was great on West Wing and excellent on L.A. Law. I also believe he played the town drunk on several episodes of Bonanza but I cannot be sure. Anybody know?

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