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."