John Spencer, best known for playing Leo McGarry, the chief of staff on The West Wing, died suddenly from a heart attack on December 16. He was only 58. He would have turned 59 on December 20.
John Spencer was born John Speshock around Patterson, New Jersey. At age 16 he attended the Professional Children's School. By 1963 he had a recurring role on The Patty Duke Show as cousin Cathy's boyfriend Henry Anderson. He attended Fairleigh Dickenson University, then New York University. He never finished college, dropping out to return to acting.
Much of John Spencer's career was spent on the stage. Early in his career he worked in regional theatre and New York, appearing in Lakeboat and The Glass Menagerie. He appeared on Broadway in such shows as Boom Boom Room (1973), Execution of Justice (1986), and The Day Room (1988). In 1981 he won an Obie for his work in the off Broadway play Still Life.
Spencer made his film debut in the movie Echoes in 1983. He went onto play in such films as War Games, Black Rain, Presumed Innocent. But it was on television that he would have his biggest impact. In 1988 he landed a role on the soap opera Another World. In 1990 he joined the cast of L.A. Law. He would go onto appear in the short lived series Trinity before being cast as Chief of Staff McGarry on The West Wing.
I must say that I am saddened by Spencer's death. While I have not been a regular viewer of The West Wing in ages, I watched L.A. Law loyally and, of course, I remember him from The Patty Duke Show. He always impressed me as a consumate professional, an actor who did his job and did his job well. It is sad that he had to pass on at such a young age.