Monday, December 19, 2005

Reactions to John Spencer's Death

From Rob Lowe's Official Fansite:
"Rob was in London when he learned of John Spencer's death. He had these words to say:

"The world knew John as a great actor . . . I was lucky to know him as a great friend. I'll miss him."


From The New York Times:
"The sudden death of John Spencer on Friday is sure to alter the plotlines of "The West Wing," the NBC show in which he was a star, but its writers do not expect to begin grappling with the creative implications of his loss until early in the new year, one of its executive producers said yesterday.

The producer, Lawrence O'Donnell, a former adviser in the United States Senate who has been with "The West Wing" since its inception, said the writers and actors were stunned by Mr. Spencer's death from a heart attack and would need to grieve before they could address the fate of his character.

This season, the show's seventh, Mr. Spencer's Leo McGarry has been a critical character. McGarry, former chief of staff to the incumbent president, Josiah Bartlet, is the running mate of the Democratic candidate for president, Matt Santos, played by Jimmy Smits.

So far this season, NBC has broadcast nine new episodes of the show. Mr. O'Donnell said five more episodes had been completed, including the next one - to be shown on Jan. 8 - titled "Running Mates," which centers on Mr. Spencer's character. The episode or episodes in which the election takes place have not yet been filmed, Mr. O'Donnell said, nor have producers said when the fictional election would be broadcast.

Mr. O'Donnell said the show's staff had been on hiatus since last Monday and that questions about whether the next episode would need to be edited - to say nothing of the larger question of how to deal with the loss of a vice-presidential candidate in the midst of a campaign - would not be broached until the next scheduled production meeting, in the first week of January.

"We recognize how important this kind of question is to viewers of the show," Mr. O'Donnell said in a telephone interview. "It is very, very, very important to us. But it is a secondary issue and we are not past the primary issue yet."

Mr. Spencer, 58, played Leo since the show's first season. His character was a crusty politician with a soft touch, one who survived a heart attack last season. He was as beloved a fixture backstage as he was on camera.

"He was my brother; that is the most I can say," said Martin Sheen, who plays the president, when reached at home yesterday. "I just adored him. It's too big a hole."

Mr. O'Donnell said that he, Mr. Sheen and other members of the close-knit cast had gathered informally over the weekend and found some solace in reminiscing with one another.

"Nobody could play tough better than John Spencer," Mr. O'Donnell said. "But that was pure acting. He was the sweetest guy on the set, all the time. No matter how difficult a scene we might have to do or whatever problem we would run into shooting, you always knew where to look on the set for someone with a smile. It was John."

Bradley Whitford, who plays Josh Lyman, a colleague of Leo's, said yesterday he considered Mr. Spencer "this dear, big brother."

"Acting saved his life, I think, a couple of times," Mr. Whitford said. "He came from a tough background, and it liberated him early on. It saved him again when he had his struggles with sobriety." Mr. Spencer openly discussed his battle with alcoholism.

Mr. Spencer created a number of memorable supporting roles throughout his career, including as a detective in the 1990 film "Presumed Innocent" and as Tommy Mullaney, a lawyer on the television show "L.A. Law." He won an Emmy Award for best supporting actor in 2002, for his work on "The West Wing."

A network spokesman said that he expected there to be memorial services for Mr. Spencer on both the West and East Coasts (Mr. Spencer was born in New York City and grew up in New Jersey) but that those plans had not yet been completed."

Posted by shaddowwas39 at WWSpoilers:
From ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" and their "In
Memoriam" segment

[text] John Spencer 58 - Actor

[video clip] "There's nothing you can do that's not going to make me
proud of you. Eat 'em up. Game on."

[text] Best known for his Emmy-winning role on "The West Wing"

[still photo] Picture of John kissing the Emmy"

Tributes at from all around the world (You can send in your own):
I want to send by condolences to the family of John Spencer. He was a great actor. I have watched him over the years and he touched my life particularly his portrayal of Leo McGarry in the West Wing, acted with grace, brilliance and a twinkle in the eye. He will be greatly missed.
Angela, England

An extraordinary actor on an extraordinary show. Spencer achieved more with a facial expression than most dramatic actors could convey with a monologue. His private life was beset with similar problems to his character's, and that made him a heartbreakingly honest spokesperson for the issues of alcoholism, addiction, and being grateful for his life.
Ben, Swindon, UK

We are shocked and saddened at the death of John. We were fans of him in LA Law, but, in The West Wing, he brought a steely toughness to the role of what we believed the chief of staff should be.
Mr & Mrs B Roberts, Renfrew, Scotland

The West Wing is, without doubt, one of the finest, best sustained dramas ever on TV. John Spencer, as Leo McGarry, was one of the finest actors in it. He breathed real character into a wonderful script and, as main support to President Jed Bartlett, helped carry the show. As the character developed and grew, so did his grasp of the role and of its often pivotal part in the drama. If only real-life Chiefs of Staff were as honest, as true and as real as McGarry! He will be sorely missed, both in real life and on the set of WW.
Colin Forbes, Cirencester, England

The untimely death of John Spencer has robbed us of a fine actor and as Leo McGarry in the West Wing, one of the original cast of the best TV drama for the past 7 years and the only show I have to watch. He along with the rest of the cast created a Whitehouse you could only wish for. He will be sorely missed.
Patrick Kelly, Nottingham, England

John Spencer was such a REAL, BELIEVABLE actor. My now deceased former husband of 20 years was a successful businessman, a very complex person, and an alcoholic. I raised three sons, none of whom drink today. I had taped that most incredible WW episode where Leo flashes back to how he fell off the wagon with some very old scotch (Johnny Walker Blue). I showed this remarkable scene to each of my sons to help explain to them the complexity and insidiousness of their father's disease. It left its mark. Thank you, John Spencer, for some of the best acting I have ever seen.
Nicki Kilfara, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

John Spencer was a fine and gifted actor who never failed to deliver a good performance. As a fan of The West Wing from season 1, I shall deeply miss this versatile and talented performer.
Alex Weeks, London, UK

He was a truly wonderful actor in a wonderful show. The West Wing will not be the same without him.
James, London, UK

Being too young to remember LA Law, I only became familiar with Spencer through his work on the West Wing. He breathed life into Leo McGarry and made him a character that we all wanted to be friends with, and I am completely devastated by this tragic news. John Spencer was a fine actor and will be sorely missed, and my heart goes out to his family and friends.
Kass, Leeds, UK

If they do make another series of the West Wing now, it won't be the same. John was an amazing actor, who brought so much to the series. He overcame challenges in his personal life that most of us would crumble at. You brought happiness into the homes of millions through your work, and now it's your turn to rest. Thanks for all you've given the world!
David, Stirling, UK

The world has lost a wonderful actor, and the West Wing has lost its heart and soul. John Spencer was the unsung hero of the best TV show of my lifetime, and deserves to be remembered as a great. Rest in peace Leo.
Stuart Ansell, Maidstone, Kent

The actors were what made The West Wing the greatest show ever to appear on television. John Spencer was chief among them and he will be sorely missed by all who watched the show.
Gareth Doherty, Donegal, Ireland

What a sad day, The West Wing won't be the same. Why do all the best people die young? I have the DVDs so shall be able to have a memory of a great actor.
Mrs Macdougall, Luton, UK

I've really enjoyed watching John Spencer as Leo in The West Wing and I'm saddened to hear this news. He created a very real character in Leo and I will certainly miss his performances.
Nicola, Durham

A fantastic actor and my favourite character on The West Wing. I'm sad to hear he's passed on. My thoughts are with his family and friends.
John McMillan, Farnborough

Watching him in West Wing you had to admire his timing, his delivery and his ability to hit the right emotional pitch. In a series surrounded with some of the best in the business, he was always the equal and often the best in any scene he was in. Never trying to steal the show, just his portrayal was spot on. Will be missed.
Stephen, Helsinki

A truly brilliant actor who has been cut down during the high point of his acting career; a very sad day for the acting and broadcasting world.
A Ael, London, England

I was huge fan of John Spencer. He brought so much humanity to his role on The West Wing. He seemed to like his part on that show in real life. We will all miss him and The West Wing will not be the same without him. God Bless you, John, you have gone too soon.
Diana S Fetterman, Coconut Creek, Florida, USA

I mourn the tragic loss of a quite brilliant actor. His portrayal of Leo McGarry for almost seven full seasons on The West Wing was fantastic and gave a great insight on how the Chief of Staff is quite literally the 'Co-President'. It is a shame as he would have made a great Vice-President to Matt Santos. My thoughts and prayers are with John Spencer's family, I'll miss you John.
Mushfique Khan, Chadwell Heath, UK

Leo was, for me, what Robert Duvall was to Marlon Brando in The Godfather; Bartlet's right-hand man, his advisor. His character always knew what to do and how to solve a problem. As President Bartlet once said "Leo's made of leather, his face has a map of the world on it. Leo comes back". Sadly, not this time. Rest in peace Leo.
Liam OConnor, Glossop, UK

Am saddened at the passing of a man whose personality and the character he played seem both to have been human beings who reflected truly about issues, regardless of the consequences. CB
Cathy Baril, Montreal, Quebec

John Spencer will be sadly missed. He was a fantastic actor who played a flawed but strong character in The West Wing, but both as Leo McGarry and himself, he showed that you can still reach the top regardless of your past.
Claire Stevenson, Airdrie

Quite simply the man was a legend. Awesome actor, nice bloke and will be sadly missed by all film and TV fans - not just fans of the West Wing.
Ian Davidson, York, UK

A truly talented actor who gave a depth and dimension to the roles he played that we very rarely see in the modern acting world. Leo McGarry was (next to Jed Bartlett) my favorite character on the West Wing and one of my all time favorite characters on television. The untimely and premature death of John Spencer will leave a deep void in the acting industry and many of us around the world will miss seeing his face and his wonderful acting grace our television screens. Rest in peace John Spencer and thank you for your contribution to this world. My sincere and heartfelt thoughts, prayers and condolences go out to John Spencer's family on the loss of such a wonderful man.
OL, NSW Australia

This is a very sad day. My thoughts go out to John Spencer's family. My favourite TV programme will never be the same again.
Garry Lloyd, Lowton, Warrington, Cheshire, UK

What very sad news, like many fans of the fantastic West Wing series, Leo McGarrity was always my favourite character. John always exuded old school charm and panache, and put you in mind of Gene Kelly or Sinatra. He brought us countless moments of immense pathos as Leo, and was often portrayed as the real strength behind the president, I often found myself wishing real life imitated art as I watched John and Martin Sheen in action as Leo and Jed. You will be missed dreadfully John, we have lost a true gent, god bless.
Sarah K, Bathgate, Scotland

I will always remember him for his role in The Rock. He was a brilliant actor and his death is a terrible shame. Farewell Womack!
Rich, Bath, UK

With him now gone, I'm now the poorer with just Martin Sheen and CJ to look out for on my all-time favourite political drama. Spencer, you were a good Chief of Staff.
Jesse Masai, Nairobi, Kenya

John Spencer was an extraordinarily talented actor who played many diverse roles. In The West Wing, he made the most of the brilliant writing to question the status quo of political discourse, becoming a much loved character and screen presence. He will be sorely missed.
Mark, Lancashire, UK

Without doubt, the most convincing and watchable character on West Wing. I'm certain he was the favourite of most viewers, and Leo McGarry will be sadly missed, almost as much as John Spencer.
Mikey Walsh, Marbella Spain

Always a true charm on the telly, Spencer made the White House role seem like he was in your living room rocking the part of a great man. With the attitude of a father figure, and a demonstrative showing as a true professional. Rest in peace my good man, Leo McGarry, you were a fine Vice President, and a true man in great spirit and personality.
Aidan Gray, Swindon, UK

John Spencer's portrayal of Leo McGarry was brilliant, completely faultless. He brought a huge array of acting talent to bear on scenes that demanded anything from cranky humour or heartfelt kindness through to gut-wrenching sadness or pounding fear - all with understatement and subtlety. A lovely character, a lovely man, and possibly one of the greatest but undervalued actors of our time.
Nick Hart, Camberley, UK

Such a tragic loss... He is one of the people who was responsible for bringing a cast to life and making them shine, in a way that instilled hope for a better real life future through the most sophisticated TV show television has ever seen. Thank you, John Spencer.
Scarum, Nijmegen, the Netherlands

John Spencer was an amazing actor. In a show with an outstanding ensemble cast, John stood apart with his acting always being sheer perfection. From his entrance into The West Wing, through the story of his alcoholism in Bartlet for America, from his reaction in Twenty Five to the scarily accurate heart attack scene in The Birnam Woods, Spencer managed to make Leo a real person and not just a character in a television show.

He'll be sorely missed, and here's to many more 'big block of cheese days' to come.
Robert White, Birmingham, UK"

From the Hollywood Reporter:
"By Nellie Andreeva and Cynthia Littleton
The death on Friday of actor John Spencer, a cornerstone of the ensemble on "The West Wing" since its 1999 debut, is sure to send the show's writing team back to the drawing board for the second half of what could be the show's final season.

Spencer's character, former Bartlet administration chief of staff turned vice presidential candidate Leo McGarry, has played a key role in the election-year story line of the Emmy-winning White House drama this season as McGarry became the running mate of fiery liberal Democratic congressman Matt Santos, played by Jimmy Smits, vying to succeed Martin Sheen's President Josiah Bartlet in the fictional Oval Office.

Another complication for "West Wing" writers in dealing with the real-life drama of Spencer's death from a heart attack at age 58 is the fact that his character was seen in a flash-forward sequence set three years in the future in the sixth season "West Wing" opener that aired in September.(This is incorrect, it was the 7th season and Leo was not in this scene!) (In an eerie life-meets-art parallel, Spencer's character suffered a heart attack last season but recovered quickly enough to take on a bruising presidential campaign.)

"West Wing" was on a scheduled production hiatus for the holidays at the time of Spencer's death -- the actor died less than a day after he checked into a Los Angeles hospital with a bad cold, according to his publicist. Writers and producers for the John Wells Prods./Warner Bros. TV series are expected to gather this week to decide how to handle the remainder of the season, a studio spokeswoman said.

Spencer appeared in seven of the 14 episodes of "West Wing" has completed for its sixth season as of last week, according to "West Wing" producer Warner Bros. Television. Nine of those 14 episodes have already aired; "West Wing" isn't scheduled to air a new episode until January.

At its peak, "The West Wing" ranked among primetime's most-watched series, but the much-praised drama has struggled ratings-wise during the past few seasons. This fall, the show relocated from its longtime home on Wednesday to the Sunday 8 p.m. slot, where it has ranked 50th among network primetime series with an average of 8.2 million viewers and a 2.3 rating/5 share in the adults 18-49 demographic. As such, "West Wing" was already seen as a long shot to be renewed for a seventh year next fall.

The challenge now facing the "West Wing's" creative team recalls the situation producers of "The Sopranos" dealt with in 2000 following the death of Nancy Marchand, who played the pivotal, villainous mob matriarch Livia Soprano. To wrap up her story line, "Sopranos" producers used old pieces of dialogue and CGI techniques to briefly insert Marchand's face on a body double.

In late December 2004, "Law & Order" veteran Jerry Orbach died shortly before the premiere of the NBC spinoff "Law & Order: Trial by Jury." Producers and the network ultimately decided to air the episodes in which Orbach was featured, though the show ultimately proved short-lived.

Actor John Ritter died in September 2003 on the eve of the sophomore-season debut of his promising ABC comedy "8 Simple Rules." Producers decided to reflect real life by writing the lead character's shocking death into the story line. "8 Simple Rules" continued for two more seasons but never regained the ratings momentum it lost along with its star."

"It’s no coincidence that John Spencer was on two series that won a combined five best drama Emmys while he was on board.

David Kelley, who was running “L.A. Law” when Spencer joined in 1990, chose Spencer, who suddenly died of a heart attack Friday at 58, as the perfect man to play rumpled attorney Tommy Mullaney. And another small-screen genius, “The West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin, figured out that Spencer was the only actor who had the gravitas to give life to his Leo McGarry.

Those decisions came years after Spencer, who won his own Emmy for “West Wing” and was nominated four other times, found his way as a successful actor. It was only after a short stint on “The Patty Duke Show” in the early 1960s and then bopping around regional theater for a couple of decades that Spencer made a name for himself. By his own admission, if he hadn’t been cast opposite Harrison Ford in the 1990 thriller “Presumed Innocent,” he might’ve still been playing occasional off-Broadway gigs and eking out a living.

But for viewers of quality TV over the last decade, Spencer will always be McGarry, President Josiah Bartlet’s right-hand man, the chief of staff who made the big decisions when Bartlet or anyone in his administration wasn’t up to the task.

Unlike any other character on the show, he had more baggage than the claim area at O’Hare. McGarry was a drug abuser and alcoholic, and every day in the White House had to battle his demons and hang on to his sobriety.

In his most touching episode from season one, a young White House staffer reveals to the press that there are people in the West Wing with a history of drug use, and the finger eventually is pointed to McGarry. The staffer is soon fired by Bartlet confidante Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) and is packing her desk when McGarry confronts her.

Expecting a tongue-lashing, instead she gets a dose of compassion when he learns that her father was a drunk and that she was afraid he’d be making monumental decisions under the influence. He calls her decision to speak out brave and then asks her to stick around and use that courage on the job.

McGarry was the voice of reason in the Oval when others got caught up in self-righteousness. It didn’t take much for Brad Whitford’s Josh Lyman or Richard Schiff’s Toby Ziegler to lose it, and McGarry was often calming them down, telling them the politically correct move, minus the party vengeance.

But McGarry and Barlet began to fall out of favor last season, and in a scene that now has eerie implications, McGarry had a heart attack in the woods outside Camp David and lay motionless on the ground. Eventually he would be found and make his way back to work, but with Allison Janney’s C.J. Cregg replacing him as chief of staff.

And now that “Wing” was riding high again — creatively but certainly not ratings-wise — Spencer’s death could be a mortal blow, as if the drop in viewership wasn’t bad enough.

It’s never easy to keep a show’s momentum going after a vital member of the cast passes away. ABC’s “8 Simple Rules” was doing just fine when John Ritter unexpectedly died. The execs at the network and on the series valiantly went on but there was no denying the show had lost its raison d’etre. Soon after, the show was canceled.

“West Wing” is an entirely different animal — “Rules” was a comedy with a small cast and was still figuring out what type of show it wanted to be — NBC’s four-time Emmy winner is in the twilight of its run and has a deep ensemble. But now there’s a huge hole in the show, and one that won’t easily be filled.

Spencer’s McGarry had a pivotal role this season as the running mate of presidential candidate Matthew Santos, played by another “L.A. Law” vet, Jimmy Smits. And in a display of the deep respect McGarry had in the Democratic party, in the episode before Spencer’s death, McGarry was being talked about as a replacement for campaign chairman Lyman as the election nears its crucial final weeks.

Never one to backstab a longtime ally or put the party in a bad light, Spencer declined the offer and reiterated his faith in Lyman, with whom he had worked with for nearly eight years.

With probably two or three episodes in the can, “West Wing” writers now have the difficult task of figuring out how to explain Spencer’s sudden absence from the show. Since McGarry had health problems, it would make sense that they could say he had another heart attack or that the stress of the campaign caused a sudden brain aneurysm. But the show has often thrown convention out the window, so who knows?

How will this affect the presidential race? Santos seemed to be a few points down in the most recent polls to Republican nom Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) but the contest was far from over.

There was concern early on when Santos named McGarry as a running mate about how his tenuous health and addictions would be construed by the voters. Does the fact that Santos was assured his health would be OK say something about the president-to-be’s decision-making abilities? After initially extending their sympathies, would the Republicans exploit McGarry’s death for political gain? If he can’t pick a vice president, how can he run the free world?

If any type of tragedy struck the Republican ranks, there’s little doubt that McGarry would’ve been the person the Democrats immediately seek for counsel, asking what’s the right thing to do.

Spencer, ever low-key and always handing off accolades to those around him even though he was as deserving as anyone, would know exactly what to say. He always did."

From the Arizona Republic:
"Television and movies are full of faces you recognize but can't quite place, people whose work is always worth a watch, even if they won't ever become a household name.

John Spencer was one of those faces, and one of the best. The 58-year-old Emmy-winning actor, known most recently as former White House chief of staff and current vice presidential candidate Leo McGarry on The West Wing, died Friday of a heart attack.

"We're shocked and deeply saddened by the sudden death of our friend and colleague," West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin and executive producer Tommy Schlamme said in a joint statement. "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 every day by his many, many friends."

They're not kidding about the friend part. During its heyday, West Wing cast members were pretty much locks for Emmy nominations, which meant they usually were in competition against each other. In 2002, when Spencer won for best supporting actor in a drama, the television coverage used the standard split-screen that allows us to see the nominees' reactions when the winner is announced. Instead of donning the usual disingenuous smiles those who don't win plaster on their faces, fellow cast member Bradley Whitford (himself a winner) leaped from his chair and cheered as rabidly as any sports fan might for a game-winning field goal. Other cast members did the same. It was a genuinely moving moment, and one that showed the regard in which Spencer's colleagues held him.

The West Wing has gone from must-see critical darling to abandoned stepchild, and, despite a modest revival in quality this season, deservedly so. Where once its dialogue crackled with wit and intelligence, it now settles for volume and posturing. That might be how politics works in real life, but it's not nearly as much fun to watch.

But even when its members were given lesser lines to recite, The West Wing's cast remains top-notch, and Spencer never lost his way. The idea of an aging, recovering drug addict and alcoholic who, ironically, nearly died after a massive heart attack being put on a national ticket is ludicrous, but Spencer made the most of it, playing up the exhaustion and pettiness of the campaign trail. It wasn't like the glory days, when Leo knew everything about everything, and wasn't afraid to say so.

An NBC spokesman said it was too early to know how Spencer's death would be written into the show.

It's a mistake to pretend that you really know the people who show up on your television set, even if you've met them, but I especially liked Spencer. I hadn't been working as The Republic's television critic long when a publicist called and asked if I'd like to interview him during The West Wing's first season. Sure, whatever, was my basic response. Something to do on a slow day.

What a moron.

The interview took place on one of Spencer's rare days off. Not only was he gracious and chatty - he used the word "gig" to describe his acting jobs, which I thought was a hoot coming from the would-be chief of staff - but when I was done asking questions he insisted that we stay on the line so that he could ask me questions: Do you have a family, do you like your job, that kind of thing. When we finally finished, he said to be sure to look him up if I was ever in Los Angeles.

So, after the Television Critics Association's awards banquet the following year, I did. You probably don't remember this, I began, and he cut me off. "I said if you're ever in LA, look me up."

Exactly. Nothing more than exchanged pleasantries came of it, but it was still a nice moment, courtesy of a guy who, no matter what role he was playing, on-camera or off, provided plenty of them."

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