Article published in on December 19, 2005

John Spencer Dies at 58 (1946-2006)

By Laurie Morton (co-authored by Dino M. Zaffina)

Actor John Spencer, 58, died four days before his 59th birthday. Spencer died of a heart attack Friday, December 16, 2005, after being admitted to a Los Angeles hospital during the night.

Spencer is best known for his role of Chief of Staff Leo McGarry in NBC’s The West Wing. He was “one of those rare combinations of divinely gifted and incredibly generous,” said Richard Schiff, who plays Toby Ziegler on the NBC series.

There are very few personal treasures that you put in your knapsack to carry with you for the rest of your life, and he’s one of those,” Schiff said. He said Spencer had been struggling with health issues but seemed to have rebounded.

Actress Allison Janney, who plays C.J. Cregg on The West Wing, described Spencer as a consummate professional actor. “Everyone adored him,” she said.

We have all lost a dear, dear brother,” said Bradley Whitford,  who plays Josh Lyman.

John was an uncommonly good man, an exceptional role model and a brilliant actor,” said Aaron Sorkin, who created the series, and Tommy Schlamme, one of the original executive producers, in a joint statement. “We feel privileged to have known him and worked with him. He’ll be missed and remembered every day by his many, many friends,” they said.

Spencer had a long and illustrious career that dates back to 1964 when he landed the role of Henry Anderson in the television series, The Patty Duke Show. Spencer played the boyfriend of Cathy, the English twin cousin.

For the next thirty-five years, Spencer bounced from television screens to the silver screen playing roles in feature films like Sea of Love opposite Al Pacino and John Goodman; and Black Rain opposite Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia.

His biggest recognition of his career for that time was the role of Detective Lipranzer in Presumed Innocent starring Harrison Ford. It is rumored that this role is what aided Spencer in landing the role of Tommy Mullaney in the television series L.A. Law.

Before accepting the role of McGarry in The West Wingin 1999, Spencer worked in a string of major feature films opposite the likes of Sean Connery and Nicholas Cage in The Rock; Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, and Robert De Niro in Cop Land; and Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey in The Negotiator.

John Spencer won an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama at the 54th Annual Emmy Awards.  He was consistently nominated every year since then, but did not take home the award.


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