Saturday, December 17, 2005

Breaking News: John Spencer Has Died

First Reported December 16, 6PM ET

To share your thoughts and commemorate John Spencer with other fans, use the comments or go here. There will be more updates later.
From the Washington Post:
""Over the next week or so, the producers are going to try to figure out where they're going from here," a spokeswoman for Warner Bros. told The Washington Post's Chip Crews. "Scripts have to be ready when the show resumes January 4."

Spencer is in two of the five remaining episodes that have been shot but not aired, the spokeswoman said, but the creative team has not indicated how they might write McGarry out of the plot. "They're in shock. They're mourning today," she said."

Another comment from the Associated Press:
"Asked how the series would cope with his loss, Schiff replied: "I don't know. I don't know. It's the last thing on my mind right now. 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."
***
Smits called Spencer "a true pillar of a man."

"I am honored to call John Spencer a friend, and his death is a loss that will be felt for a long time to come. Working with him was a privilege," Smits said in a statement."

From the Associated Press:
"LOS ANGELES -
John Spencer, who played a tough and dedicated politico on "The West Wing" who survived a serious illness to run for vice president, died of a heart attack Friday. He was 58.

Spencer died after being admitted to a Los Angeles hospital during the night, said his publicist, Ron Hofmann. He would have been 59 on Tuesday.

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.

Spencer played Leo McGarry, the savvy and powerful chief of staff to President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet (
Martin Sheen). In a sad parallel to life, Spencer's character suffered a heart attack that forced him to give up his White House job.

McGarry recovered and was picked as a running mate for Democratic presidential contender Matt Santos, played by
Jimmy Smits; the campaign against Republican Arnold Vinick (
Alan Alda) has been a central theme for the drama this season.

"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.

Actress
Allison Janney, C.J. Cregg on the series, 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.

NBC and producer Warner Bros. Television praised Spencer's talent but did not address how his death would affect the Emmy Award-winning series, in production on its seventh season.

Spencer, who also starred on "L.A. Law" as attorney Tommy Mullaney, received an Emmy Award for his performance on "The West Wing" in 2002 and was nominated four other times for the series.

The actor, whose world-weary countenance was perfect for the role of McGarry, mirrored his character in several ways: Both were recovering alcoholics and both, Spencer once said, were driven.

"Like Leo, I've always been a workaholic, too," he told The Associated Press in a 2000 interview. "Through good times and bad, acting has been my escape, my joy, my nourishment. The drug for me, even better than alcohol, was acting."

Spencer grew up in Paterson, N.J., the son of blue-collar parents. With his enrollment at the Professional Children's School in Manhattan at age 16, he was sharing classes with the likes of
Liza Minnelli and budding violinist Pinchas Zukerman.

As a teenager, he landed a recurring role on "The
Patty Duke Show" as the boyfriend of English twin Cathy. Stage and film work followed. Then his big break: playing
Harrison Ford's detective sidekick in the 1990 courtroom thriller "Presumed Innocent." That role led to his hiring for the final four years of "L.A. Law."

Spencer played a streetwise lawyer on the David E. Kelley drama that was in sharp contrast to the show's otherwise glamorous cast and setting.

After attending the Manhattan performing arts school, Spencer studied at Fairleigh Dickenson University. He then began working on stage in New York and in regional theaters, in plays including
David Mamet's "Lakeboat" and Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie."

Spencer won an Obie Award for the 1981 off-Broadway production of "Still Life," about a Vietnam veteran, and received a Drama Desk nomination for "The Day Room."

His made his feature film debut with a small role in "War Games," which was followed by roles in "Sea of Love" and "Black Rain." Spencer said his work in "Presumed Innocent" represented a "watershed role."

In recent years, he worked both in studio and independent films, including "The Rock," "The Negotiator," "Albino Alligator," "Lesser Prophets" and "Cold Heart."

Spencer, an only child, is survived by "cousins, aunts, uncles, and wonderful friends," Hofmann said."

From NBC:
" BURBANK, Calif. -- December 16, 2005 -- Joint statement from NBC and Warner Bros. Television:

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of our dear friend John Spencer. John was a remarkable man with enormous talent and beloved by everyone who had the privilege of working with him on 'The West Wing.' Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends in this most difficult time. He will be greatly missed."

Statement from Executive Producer John Wells:

"John was a wonderful actor, a pleasure to work with and a true gentleman, but most importantly, a generous and gracious friend. He will be missed by everyone who ever had the great fortune to know him."

Statement from Executive Producers Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme:

"We're shocked and deeply saddened by the sudden death of our friend and colleague. John was an uncommonly good man, an exceptional role model and a brilliant actor. We feel privileged to have known him and worked with him. He'll be missed and remembered everyday by his many, many friends."

Media Contacts:
Joe Libonati, NBC Entertainment Publicity ? 818-840-3050 or joe.libonati@nbcuni.com
Kristi Strupinsky, Warner Bros. Television ? 818-954-1985 or Kristi.strupinsky@warnerbros.com


Obituary for John Spencer:

Los Angeles (December 16, 2005) John Spencer, the Emmy-winning actor best-known for starring roles in such popular television series as "The West Wing," and "L.A. Law" has passed away at 58 after suffering a heart attack in the morning of December 16. Service and funeral arrangements have not been determined at this time.

The versatile character actor is perhaps best known for his role as Chief of Staff Leo McGarry on "The West Wing." His work on the show was rewarded with an Emmy Award win for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series in 2002 and nominations in 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2004. He also has a Golden Globe nomination under his belt for his role as Leo. Earlier noted work includes his portrayal of the quirky and charismatic New York attorney Tommy Mullaney on "L.A. Law."

Spencer began his professional acting career at age sixteen when he left his home in Patterson, New Jersey to pursue his passion. While attending Professional Children's School in the city, he earned catalog modeling jobs, leading to his first television role as Henry Anderson, the boyfriend of the English twin on "The Patty Duke Show." Following high school, Spencer enrolled at Fairleigh Dickenson University, earning a consistent spot on the Dean's List.

He returned to New York to understudy the lead in Butterflies Are Free, a role he subsequently played on tour. Regional theatre opened up for Spencer, leading him to seek out new plays by new playwrights and providing him entry into the New York theatre scene. From 1974-81 he performed in such stage works as David Mamet's Lakeboat, Michael Weller's Fishing and Loose Ends, John Hopkins' This Story of Yours, and the gentleman caller in Tennessee William's The Glass Menagerie and Still Life. The latter production, about a Vietnam vet, went on to earn Spencer an Obie Award during its off-Broadway run in 1981. A Drama Desk nomination later came for his performance in The Day Room. He also portrayed Dan White in the critically acclaimed production of Execution of Justice. Other stage appearances include Terrence McNally's Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, Peter Hedges' Good as New, Amulets Against the Dragon Forces, and Pera Palas among others.

When Still Life came to the Los Angeles stage, Spencer opened a new door with his first feature film role ? a bit part as a military grunt who won't push "the button" during the opening scene of War Games. His natural charisma and strength led to authority roles: Al Pacino's boss in Sea of Love and Michael Douglas' in Black Rain, with Harrison Ford as Detective Lipranzer in Presumed Innocent ("a watershed role," said Spencer), Billy Crystal's basketball referee friend in Forget Paris, Harvey Keitel's partner in Copland. More recently Spencer has moved between studio and independent projects, taking roles in Caf? Society, Albino Alligator, Lesser Prophets, Ravenous, Cold Heart, and Green Card while coming down ? usually ? on the side of the law in The Rock, Twilight, and The Negotiator.

After seeing his work in Presumed Innocent, producer David E. Kelley invited Spencer to join the cast of "L.A. Law" for the final four of its eight-year run. From 1990-94 he mesmerized audiences with his tough, funny portrayal of Tommy Mullaney, reinvigorating the series and solidifying his reputation as a preeminent character actor. Spencer appeared in the highly rated telefilm, "The Tangled Web," starred in Joseph Wambaugh's "A Jury of One" and guest starred on such episodic series as "Miami Vice," "Spenser for Hire," "Law & Order," "Touched By An Angel," "The Outer Limits," "FX," "Early Edition," "Lois & Clark" and "Tracey Takes On..." He also portrayed Simon McCallister on the drama "Trinity."

A few years ago he created the role of ex-jazz musician, ex-junkie Martin Glimmer in the world premiere of Warren Leight's The Glimmer Brothers at the Williamstown Theater Festival. Spencer played the part of Martin Glimmer in Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine (same play, new title) in Los Angeles at the Mark Taper Forum and the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York City to rave reviews.

Known for his dedication, authenticity and generosity as an actor, John was always quick to share his success as an actor with the tremendous good fortune of working with the world's finest writers and actors. From David E. Kelly to Warren Leight to his recent collaboration with Aaron Sorkin and John Wells, actors Martin Sheen to Stockard Channing, to Harrison Ford to Al Pacino, he would always credit his fellow actors and the words on the page for allowing him to stretch as an actor."

From the New York Times:
"John Spencer, the Emmy Award-winning actor who played the shrewd, craggy White House chief of staff on the NBC drama "The West Wing," died yesterday morning in Los Angeles, four days before his 59th birthday.

He had a heart attack Thursday night and was taken to Olympia Medical Center, where he was declared dead shortly after 10 a.m. yesterday, said Ron Hofmann, his publicist.

In an eerie parallel to life, his character on "The West Wing," Leo McGarry, suffered a heart attack last season that forced him to give up his job as chief of staff to President Josiah Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen. McGarry recovered and, in the season finale, became the running mate of Matt Santos, the Democratic presidential nominee, played by Jimmy Smits. The campaign is a critical plotline for the show, which is in the middle of production for its seventh season. Mr. Spencer had received Emmy nominations for his role every year from 1999 to 2004, winning as a best supporting actor in 2002.

He made his breakthrough in the 1990 film "Presumed Innocent," playing the role of Detective Dan Lipranzer alongside Harrison Ford. "His name, all of a sudden, became at the tip of everyone's tongue," Mr. Hofmann said. Mr. Spencer then solidified his reputation as a character actor, playing a stream of lawyers and government officials, including the fiery New York transplant Tommy Mullaney on "L.A. Law."

By the late 1990's, Mr. Spencer had so deeply ensconced himself as a sharp-witted public servant that he was cited as a model for the chief of staff on "The West Wing." Aaron Sorkin, creator of the series, recalled last night: "I said to the casting director, 'We need someone like John Spencer.' And the casting director said, 'What about John Spencer?' And I said, 'We will never get John Spencer.' " But Mr. Spencer said yes.

Mr. Spencer was born on Dec. 20, 1946, in New York City to John and Mildred Speshock, a truck driver and a waitress, and grew up in Totowa, N.J. He saw acting as an escape from his lower-middle-class upbringing. At 16 he left home to attend the Professional Children's School in New York City, landing his first television role as Henry Anderson on "The Patty Duke Show." After high school, he attended Fairleigh Dickinson University but left without graduating.

In his early career, roles were scarce, and Mr. Spencer worked as a waiter to support himself in understudy and regional theater roles in the 1970's. "People don't know what to do with a character actor who is 20," he said in an interview with TV Guide in 2000.

In 1981 he won an Obie Award for his role as Mark in John Byrne's Off Broadway play "Still Life." He remained committed to live theater, appearing most recently as Martin Glimmer, a worn-out trumpeter in "Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine," in Los Angeles and New York.

Mr. Spencer, a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, took solace in his lifelong hobby, gardening. As a child, he earned a blue ribbon from the local 4-H club for tending peas and beans in his family's vegetable garden. At his Bel-Air home, he continued to grow roses, hollyhocks, lilacs and other species common to the Northeast rather than to Southern California. He still thought of himself as a New Yorker, keeping the rental apartment he had lived in while a struggling actor until last year, when he bought an apartment.

Mr. Spencer was married and divorced in the 1970's. There are no immediate survivors."

From the Detroit News:
"John Spencer, the versatile character actor and Emmy Award-winner from NBC’s “The West Wing,” died of a heart attack Friday, just four days before his 59th birthday.

Spencer, who played the Democratic vice-presidential nominee on the political drama, died at a Los Angeles hospital, his publicist Ron Hofmann says.

Hofmann did not release any other details.

Although Spencer was no stranger to television, movies and the stage, he is best known for his role as Leo McGarry on “The West Wing,” a gig which earned him an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series and a Golden Globe nomination.

“John was a wonderful actor, a pleasure to work with and a true gentleman, but most importantly, a generous and gracious friend,” says John Wells, an executive producer  on “The West Wing” in a written statement. “He will be missed by everyone who ever had the great fortune to know him.”

Before appearing on “The West Wing,” Spencer played a quirky New York attorney named Tommy Mullaney on the long departed NBC law drama “L.A. Law.”

Spencer found success on TV early on when he got his start as Henry Anderson on ABC’s 1960s sitcom, “The Patty Duke Show.”

Known for his confident swagger, raspy voice and no-nonsense visage, the New York-born actor, whose real name was John Speshock, was often cast as the tough lawyer, cop or boss.

TV guest appearances include NBC’s “Law & Order,” and “Miami Vice” and ABC’s “Spenser for Hire” and “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.”

Spencer performed in regional theater and off-Broadway productions during the 1970s and ‘80s. His big-screen credits put him in good company. He starred in the thriller “The Negotiator,” with Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey, “Copland” with Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel, and “The Rock” with Nicolas Cage, Sean Connery and Ed Harris.

Funeral arrangements have not been determined at this time."

From the New York Daily News:
"John Spencer, who played Leo McGarry on NBC's political drama "The West Wing," died yesterday of a heart attack in a Los Angeles hospital, his publicist said. He would have turned 59 next week.

Spencer won an Emmy in 2002 for his role as McGarry, who was the right-hand man to President Jeb Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen. Ironically, his character had suffered a heart attack that forced him to give up his White House job. This season, McGarry was running for vice president.

"John was a wonderful actor, a pleasure to work with and a true gentleman, but most importantly, a generous and gracious friend," executive producer John Wells said in a statement. "He will be missed by everyone who ever had the great fortune to know him."

Before "The West Wing," Spencer was best known for playing quirky attorney Tommy Mullaney on the hit drama "L.A. Law."

Born John Speshock, Spencer grew up in Paterson, N.J., the son of a truck driver and a waitress. He got his start in acting at the Professional Children's School in Manhattan, where he was in classes with Liza Minnelli. He then went West, landing a recurring role in the classic TV series "The Patty Duke Show."

Returning to New York, he started working on stage. He appeared in Off- and on-Broadway productions such as "Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune," "The Day Room" and "A Still Life." His big-screen credits include "The Negotiator," "Twilight," "Sea of Love" and "Presumed Innocent."

An NBC spokesman said no decisions have been made on how to handle Spencer's death on "The West Wing.""

From Reuters:
"LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Veteran character actor John Spencer, Emmy-winning star of NBC television drama "The West Wing," died on Friday at a Los Angeles hospital after suffering a heart attack, his spokesman said.

Spencer, 58, portrayed vice presidential candidate Leo McGarry on the widely watched series that portrays the inner workings of a fictional White House.

The McGarry character earned Spencer an Emmy, American television's highest honour, for best supporting actor in a drama in 2002. The show also earned Emmys for best TV drama and Screen Actors Guild awards for ensemble acting.

"We're a well-oiled machine," he said of his fellow "West Wing" performers backstage at the 2002 SAG awards. "I'm always better depending on who I'm dancing with, and these are the best partners I've ever had."

Spencer also starred in popular 1990s television drama "L.A. Law" as tough-minded but funny attorney Tommy Mullaney.

Ron Hofmann, a spokesman for Spencer, said he had no knowledge of whether the actor suffered from a heart condition or other ailment that would have caused a heart attack. Like his character on "West Wing," Spencer was an acknowledged alcoholic, but quit drinking long ago.

Spencer was the only child of Mildred and John Speshock. He left his home in Paterson, New Jersey, at age 16 to attend Professional Children's School in New York City, and changed his name to Spencer.

His first big break came in 1963 playing Henry Anderson, the boyfriend of an English twin on "The Patty Duke Show." For a time, he attended Fairleigh Dickenson University, but returned to New York to pursue a career in theatre.

Throughout the 1970s, he performed in plays ranging from David Mamet's "Lakeboat" to "Still Life," for which he earned an OBIE award.

A road production of "Still Life," about a Vietnam veteran, brought Spencer to Los Angeles, and it was there that he earned his first role in a major feature film, "War Games." Other film roles came in "Sea of Love" and "Presumed Innocent."

But it was on TV where Spencer made his mark. As Mullaney on "L.A. Law," from 1990 to 1994 he helped breathe new life into the show's final years.

Spencer is not married and has no kids. He is survived by cousins, aunts, uncles and friends, his family members said in a statement."

Brocktown News
:
"LOS ANGELES - Veteran character actor John Spencer , Emmy-winning star of NBC television drama "The West Wing," died on Friday at a Los Angeles hospital after suffering a heart attack, his spokesman said.

Spencer, 58, portrayed vice presidential candidate Leo McGarry on the widely watched series that portrays the inner workings of a fictional White House.

The McGarry character earned Spencer an Emmy, American television‘s highest honor, for best supporting actor in a drama in 2002. The show also earned Emmys for best TV drama and Screen Actors Guild awards for ensemble acting.

"We‘re a well-oiled machine," he said of his fellow "West Wing" performers backstage at the 2002 SAG awards. "I‘m always better depending on who I‘m dancing with, and these are the best partners I‘ve ever had."

While some of his "West Wing" co-stars, such as Martin Sheen , Rob Lowe and Bradley Whitford , were not shy about using their profile to support left-wing causes, Spencer said he was an entertainer first and foremost.

"I scream at the right-wingers on the talking-head shows," Spencer told Playboy magazine in 2001. "At the same time, I make clear in all of my associations that I‘m an actor who plays a politician. I let the problems of the free world go when I leave the studio."

Spencer also starred in popular 1990s television drama "L.A. Law" as tough-minded but funny attorney Tommy Mullaney.

Ron Hofmann, a spokesman for Spencer, said he had no knowledge of whether the actor suffered from a heart condition or other ailment that would have caused a heart attack. Like his character on "West Wing," Spencer was an acknowledged alcoholic, but quit drinking long ago.

Spencer was the only child of Mildred and John Speshock. He left his home in Patterson, New Jersey, at age 16 to attend Professional Children‘s School in New York City, and changed his name to Spencer.

His first big break came in 1963 playing Henry Anderson, the boyfriend of an English twin on "The Patty Duke Show."

"I looked sort of like a toothpick with a head," Spencer said in the Playboy interview. "I had this crew cut and big old ears sticking out. I was a child and I had a lot of freedom. The exuberance was real even if there wasn‘t a lot of technique."

For a time, he attended Fairleigh Dickenson University, but returned to New York to pursue a career in theater.

Throughout the 1970s, he performed in plays ranging from David Mamet ‘s "Lakeboat" to "Still Life," for which he earned an OBIE award.

A road production of "Still Life," about a Vietnam veteran, brought Spencer to Los Angeles, and it was there that he earned his first role in a major feature film, "War Games." Other film roles came in "Sea of Love" and "Presumed Innocent."

But it was on TV where Spencer made his mark. As Mullaney on "L.A. Law," from 1990 to 1994 he helped breathe new life into the show‘s final years. "

From E-Online:
" Tragically, for John Spencer, life didn't imitate art.

A year after his West Wing alter ego survived a heart attack, Spencer was felled Friday morning by a deadly one. He was four days shy of his 59th birthday.

A 2002 Emmy winner for the long-running NBC presidential series, Spencer was an original and still key cast member as Leo McGarry, the battle-tested chief of staff turned vice presidential candidate.

"I can't believe that he is gone," costar Bradley Whitford said in a statement. "We have all lost a dear, dear brother."

Allison Janney remembered her West Wing colleague as the "consummate professional actor." Series creator Aaron Sorkin and executive producer Tommy Schlamme hailed Spencer as "an uncommonly good man."

An NBC spokesman said Spencer died at a hospital. It was not known when the actor last worked on the set. After airing a new episode last weekend, the show is on hiatus until January.

As McGarry, Spencer acted out a heart attack in an October 2004 West Wing episode, "The Birnam Woods."

Spencer's sudden death would seem to throw into disarray the series' season-long presidential campaign storyline. With Martin Sheen's President Bartlet terming out, McGarry is party to one of two tickets seeking to claim the White House for their own. Earlier this fall, McGarry accepted the V.P. slot on the Democratic slate headed by Jimmy Smits' Congressman Santos.

In an episode that was slated to air Jan. 8, McGarry is front and center in a TV debate with his Republican counterpart, played by Brett Cullen. As recounted on a spoilers blog on the fan site, The West Wing Continuity Guide (http://westwing.bewarne.com/), Spencer's dialogue during an exchange on health insurance is, given Friday's events, eerie.

"By an overwhelming percentage, the first warning symptom of a heart attack is death," Spencer's McGarry says, per the blog. "I'm fortunate to be here."

Spencer's life mirrored McGarry's even down to their backstories--both men were recovering alcoholics.

In a 2000 interview with the Associated Press, Spencer argued that, of the two, McGarry was the "better man."

"He has qualities that I wish I had more of," Spencer told the wire service. "I often say to Aaron [Sorkin], 'You're writing the man I'd like to be.' "

Born on Dec. 20, 1946, Spencer was a teenager when he made his TV debut as a clean-cut suitor of Cathy Lane, the English identical cousin of Brooklynite Patty Lane, on the mid-1960s sitcom The Patty Duke Show.

By the time Spencer made his first lasting prime-time impression, he was far removed from the world of sitcom fantasy--not to mention teenagers. In 1990, it was a craggy, middle-aged Spencer who blew into NBC's L.A. Law. His hustling litigator Tommy Mullaney was just the kick in the tailored pants that the tiring legal drama needed. Spencer remained with the series until its 1994 demise.

After L.A. Law, Spencer had supporting roles in films such as Forget Paris and The Rock. His other movie credits include Presumed Innocent (the role that caught then-L.A. Law producer David E. Kelley's eye) and Black Rain, where he was invariably cast as a cop.

The West Wing came along in 1999, its long hours enough to keep even a self-described workaholic such as Spencer occupied, although he continued to work on the stage.

From 2000-04, Spencer earned five consecutive Emmy nominations as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. He won once, in 2002.

"Through good times and bad, acting has been my escape, my joy, my nourishment," Spencer once told the AP. "The drug for me, even better than alcohol, was acting."

From the Associated Press:
"How TV Shows Dealt With Loss of a Star

December 16, 2005, 10:16 PM EST

LOS ANGELES -- The death Friday of John Spencer, who played vice presidential candidate Leo McGarry on NBC's "The West Wing," deprives the series of a key character. Here are some other shows that also lost stars, and the outcome:

* John Ritter, making a TV series comeback 25 years after starring in "Three's Company," died of an undetected heart problem in 2003 during production for the second season of ABC's "8 Simple Rules." The show introduced new characters and aired two more years.

* Nancy Marchand, mob boss Tony Soprano's mother on HBO's "The Sopranos," died of cancer in 2000. The 2001 premiere episode featured a brief scene with Marchand that used old shots, computer imagery and a body double. Its sixth season starts in March.

* Comedian Redd Foxx, of "Sanford and Son" fame, died of a heart attack in 1991 after making seven episodes of his new CBS sitcom "The Royal Family." The show returned without him six months after his death but lasted only a few episodes.

* Jim Davis, who played patriarch Jock Ewing on the CBS drama "Dallas," died in 1981 of cancer. His widow on the series, Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes), found a new love and remarried. The series aired through 1991.

* Comedian Freddie Prinze, star of "Chico and the Man," committed suicide in 1977 in the third year of the popular NBC sitcom. The network cast a new, younger Chico but the show was off the air in a year.

* Actor Peter Duel shot and killed himself in 1971 after watching an episode of his ABC Western, "Alias Smith and Jones." A new actor was hired and the show lasted another season and a half."

From the
Los Angeles Times
:
"John Spencer, an actor who received an Emmy Award for portraying the flawed but efficient chief of staff who anchored the large ensemble cast on NBC-TV's "The West Wing," died Friday morning. He was 58.

Spencer died after suffering a heart attack, said Ron Hofmann, his publicist. He said the actor had fallen ill at home and died at Olympia Medical Center in Los Angeles.

"We're shocked and deeply saddened by the sudden death of our friend and colleague," Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme, executive producers of "The West Wing," said in a statement. "John was an uncommonly good man, an exceptional role model and a brilliant actor."

On the Emmy-winning hourlong drama that began airing in 1999, Spencer's character, Leo McGarry, is running for vice president on the Democratic ticket with Rep. Matthew Santos, played by Jimmy Smits.

Art sadly imitated life for Spencer. His "West Wing" character was chosen as a running mate despite a recent heart attack and a history of alcoholism. The actor openly acknowledged that he had struggled with alcohol addiction since high school

In a statement, Smits said, "I am honored to call John Spencer a friend, and his death is a loss that will be felt for a long time to come. Working with him was a privilege…. John was a true pillar of a man."

The death of an actor while a series is still in production challenges the producers and writers to find a logical plot line for the character's sudden absence. "The West Wing" will have to deal with the loss because the fictional election is central to the story line.

David E. Kelley, a writer and executive producer on "L.A. Law" when Spencer joined that show in 1990, was too upset to speak but issued this statement: "We are all deeply saddened."

James Mangold, who directed Spencer in the 1997 film "Cop Land," said he first noticed the "brilliant" actor when he played a street-smart attorney on "L.A. Law" on NBC.

"He was a kind, sweet, funny man … a man who made your words come to life in ways you would never expect," Mangold said.

Spencer was born John Speshock on Dec. 20, 1946, the only child of a working-class family. Most sources give his birthplace as New York City, but some say New Jersey.

His mother, Mildred, was an occasional waitress and homemaker who dropped out of school in the eighth grade. His truck driver father, John, never finished grammar school.

"They wanted me to be educated, a doctor or a lawyer. They weren't happy that I chose the arts," the gravelly voiced Spencer told the Chicago Tribune in 1992. "They wanted me to have a good life. It's ironic that I made the leap in a different way," he said.

As a student at the Professional Children's School in New York City, he sometimes took classes with Liza Minnelli.

At 16, he left his home near Paterson, N.J., to pursue acting in New York City and took Spencer as his stage name.

"I lived at the YMCA," he recalled. "My mom would meet me at the bus station and slip me $10."

In the early 1960s, he landed his first television role, on "The Patty Duke Show" on ABC. He played Henry Anderson, the boyfriend of Cathy, the British twin.

"I had big ears and was quite tall for the show, 5-foot, 6 inches," Spencer recalled in 2000. "I looked like a toothpick with ears."

After that, he attended Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey and later New York University but dropped out to return to acting.

Most of his early work was on the stage, where he established himself as a character actor in regional theater.

He toured with Gloria Swanson, playing her blind son in "Butterflies Are Free." In 1982, he received an Obie for his portrayal of a returning Vietnam veteran in the Emily Mann off-Broadway play "Still Life."

Mann also offered him the role of killer Dan White in "Execution of Justice," her stage re-creation of the 1978 murders in San Francisco of political figures George Moscone and Harvey Milk.

Still Life" led to his first film role, as a military grunt in 1983's "WarGames."

His big break in the movies came in the 1990 film "Presumed Innocent." He played Harrison Ford's detective sidekick, the man who tosses the incriminating piece of evidence overboard at the end of the courtroom thriller.

"My life changed overnight," he told Time magazine in 2000.

From there, he went directly to the NBC hit "L.A. Law." Casting director Ronnie Yeskel knew Spencer's work from the theater.

"He's dangerous and interesting, not your typical pretty boy, and he's got great humor," Yeskel said in 1992. "We were looking for somebody different from the cast, an older guy, maybe with a little more 'street.' "

Although Spencer was hesitant to join the series, Kelley's script convinced him otherwise.

"I got five pages into it, and it was one of the best scripts I'd read. David had got inside my head. He wrote it like I thought," Spencer told the Chicago Tribune.

He joined "L.A. Law" in 1990 as maverick lawyer Tommy Mullaney and stayed until the show's end in 1994. Spencer claimed Mullaney's rumpled look was based on his own wardrobe.

Spencer, whose grandfathers were both alcoholics, said he woke up one morning in 1989 and decided to quit drinking. He called a cousin to take him to a rehabilitation center. A decade later, Spencer gave up smoking.

In his 40-year career, he also worked with Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery in the action-suspense film "The Rock" (1996) and with Paul Newman in the 1998 private-eye yarn "Twilight."

After appearing in the short-lived NBC series "Trinity" in 1998, Spencer swore off doing hourlong dramas but once again changed his mind when his agent showed him the pilot script for "The West Wing." The role would bring him five Emmy nominations, including a win in 2002.

Right after he signed the contract for the pilot, his agent called again to say he'd just come across "the best new American play" he'd ever read, called "The Glimmer Brothers," Spencer told The Times in 2001.

Again, it was a role that Spencer felt he couldn't pass up.

He played Martin Glimmer, a dissolute trumpet player who's about to pay the final dues of a hard life, at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts during "The West Wing's" summer hiatus in 1999.

Two years later, he revived his well-reviewed role in "Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine" — same play, different title — at the Mark Taper Forum while filming "The West Wing."

During the play, his role on the show was cut back, but Martin Sheen, who portrays President Josiah Bartlet on "The West Wing," told The Times in 2001 that he noticed no difference in life on the set with Spencer.

"He's extremely energetic; he's got it down — I can barely keep up with the show," Sheen said. "I don't know how he does it, but man, he's doing it."

Spencer's publicist said he is survived by many cousins, aunts and uncles. Funeral arrangements are pending."

The West Wing News Blog is shocked and very sad about this horrible news and is keeping his family and the other "West Wing" cast in its thoughts and prayers. There will be more updates on this sad story early tomorrow morning.

8 comments:

Infinite Dragon said...

I'm crushed, and I'm in shock. I just saw Wolf Blitzer report this on CNN. Thank you for posting this.

AlanK said...

Thanks for posting this, that is shocking news

Chris said...

I'm totlay shocked by this. I can't belive it. The WW will never be the same again now. RIP John, you will be greatly missed

Orion said...

This is so sad. It doesn't seem quite real. I know as tributes start pouring in my tears will come.

Anonymous said...

I am a better person for John Spencer's portrayal of Leo. I think his great West Wing line was, "let's leave it all on the field." He did and so should we.

Adam said...

all the best to his family and those who knew and loved him...

Expat Teacher said...

Even 24 hours later, I'm still in shock. Amazing how a good actor can touch your soul and connect with you through the big and small screen.

H.Bennett said...

I met Mr Spencer in Williamstown . I saw his wonderful moving performance in The Glimmer Brothers . He saw me afterwards and said he was glad to get to talk to Me , He wanted to know what I was thinking . Since ,I was sitting near the front of the theatre , he said he could tell I was deedly affected by the work and that I helped him was using my reactions to work off of. I told him that It was making me think of the death of my Uncle Frank , who I was with when he passed . He thanked me for my candor . He told me if I was to him again to say hello . I did see him a few times over the weekend and he was very warm and friendly . I could tell He was a very sweet and kind man . I was hoping to see him again on the boards in NYC . Heaven has another star tonight and his name is John Spencer . Goodnight Dear Mr Spencer