West Wing actor dies

By Colin Mahan

Dec 17, 2005

John Spencer, who played Leo McGarry on the NBC drama The West Wing, died Friday in a Los Angeles hospital after suffering a heart attack, Associated Press reports. He was a week shy of his 59th birthday.

Spencer won an Emmy for his portrayal of Leo McGarry, the White House Chief of Staff under President Jeb Bartlet (Martin Sheen) on the long-running drama The West Wing. In a bitter irony, the character of McGarry suffered a heart attack in the 2004 season, which caused him to leave his White House post. In the current season, Democratic hopeful Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) picked McGarry to be his vice presidential running mate.

Spencer was born John Speshock on December 20, 1946, in the industrial city of Paterson, New Jersey, to working-class parents. As a child he attended the prestigious Professional Children's High School in New York City, where he fostered his love of acting. After landing a teenage role in The Patty Duke Show, he went on to perform in theater, winning an Obie Award in 1981 for the play Still Life. Later he moved into films such as the Harrison Ford thriller Presumed Innocent and the Sean Connery action flick The Rock. He was a series regular on L.A. Law, playing the role of hard-bitten New York attorney Tommy Mullaney.

Both Spencer and his West Wing character McGarry were recovering alcoholics. In a 2000 interview, Spencer drew parallels to his character, saying, "Like Leo, I've always been a workaholic, too."

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  • wyomoparnut Jan 23, 2006

    Spencer and Leo will be dearly missed. My prayers are with you.....

  • rsloane Jan 03, 2006

    that's really sad. he seemed like a cool guy and great actor.

  • skokeloor Dec 20, 2005

    one of the greatest actors there were.. rip john

  • cheezhead1013 Dec 20, 2005

    What a loss for all of us. I always felt Leo's connection with Josh included me, too. My thoughts are with his family and friends. He will be missed.

  • WILDFANSRULE Dec 20, 2005

    God Bless you and your family.

  • MiykaelPoly Dec 19, 2005

    Everyone dies eventually more sarcastic people could say that life is a terminal disease, with 100% death rate... =)

    Spencer was a good actor, saw him in The Rock, and been watching West Wing for ages. The question is how the show will handle his death? I doubt that they have already filmed the next episodes already, meaning the series will get a "heart attack" seriously distrupting the flow of the story. This is now a make or break moment for the show, many of those who used to watch WW will tune in again for few episodes. They have been given a chance to revive WW or to kill it for good.

  • JazdanSFI Dec 19, 2005

    John was an excellent actor, and will be truly missed by many. I never watched LA Law, but I did like his work in Presumed Innocent, and when I saw The Rock, I remembered instantly and knew I would be pleased. I did not come to West Wing at the beginning, but in season two, after hearing that he and other wonderful actors were doing quality work. He is irreplacable, and I think it is a good thing for West Wing that it was already ending.

  • tetraro Dec 19, 2005

    Thank you John Spencer. You will live forever in our hearts.

  • neiljay Dec 19, 2005

    A great sadness, a classic American actor, best wishes to his family and all who will miss him as we all do.

  • zeus6898 Dec 19, 2005

    I was so very sad to see that John spencer had passed away. He will be missed by the fans who knew him simply as "Leo". My prayers are with his family, friends, and co-stars during this hard time. Rest In Peace Mr. Spencer, you will be missed.

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