Home / West Wing Actor John Spencer Dead at 58

West Wing Actor John Spencer Dead at 58

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John Spencer, who played the character Leo McGarry on TV series “The West Wing” died of a heart attack today. He was 58 (and would have turned 59 next week).

Spencer’s real life experiences shared much in common with his McGarry character. Both were recovering alcoholics. In the TV show, Leo McGarry suffered a heart attack and was forced to step down from his role as White House Chief of Staff. The character recovered and was selected to be the Vice Presidential running mate for Matt Santos. Sadly, Spencer did not.

Spencer won an Emmy for his portrayal of McGarry in 2002. He appeared in other television series (“L.A. Law,” “The Patty Duke Show”) as well as stage and screen roles (“Presumed Innocent”) throughout a career that began when he was a teenager.

It has been within the past few months the wife to whom I am married and I have begun to enjoy television again through the magic of DVD. Our busy lives and a glut of bad shows have made it difficult and sometimes unpleasant to try and keep up with many shows.

I was a late convert to the powerhouse that is “The West Wing.” It has been within the past six months that I started watching the show pretty much exclusively on DVD. John Spencer’s Leo McGarry character was a favorite in our household. Just as he seemed to do for the fictional Bartlett White House, McGarry held the show together. The character’s mix of strength, compassion, flaws, and resillience were brought to the screen to great affect by an actor who projected a wonderful likability.

Spencer played a littany of small and mid-sized roles on TV and in film (I guess the term is character actor). I always enjoyed it when I would unexpectedly discover he was in a show or film I was watching. Call it charisma or perhaps presence. Whatever it was, there was something and I enjoyed it.

He injected life into a faltering “L.A. Law” and held his own with some heavyweight actors in the film “Presumed Innocent” but it was Leo McGarry that really struck a chord with me. The wife to whom I am married recently purchased Season 5 of “The West Wing” for us to watch (it was released December 6). I am not sure when I will get around to watching the rest of it. Right now, it just seems too sad.

There is never an easy time to lose a loved one. I am sure it seems just a little sadder for his family friends to lose him now during this holiday season. He is missed.

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About Josh Hathaway

  • In the days since Spencer’s passing there has already been speculation as to how the show might re-write and re-shape the remainder of the season. There is also a lot of speculation this might be the final season for the show.

  • This news has really been a cloud over my evening tonight.

    I looked over at my entertainment center where my Season 5 is sitting and I just don’t know when I will be able to watch the rest of it.

    It’s all so very sad.

  • I am so shocked right now.

  • Shit, I love that guy! Damn that’s sad.

    Thanks for writing a really nice obit, DJR.

  • J.M. Harrison

    He will be sorely missed – I loved his character – a true “anchor”.

    J.M. Harrison