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John Spencer

Born: 1946-12-20 - Died: 2005-12-16
Cause of Death:
Heart Attack

Death Summary: Spencer died on December 16, 2005, four days before his 59th birthday, in an LA hospital after suffering a heart attack. Coincidentally, Spencer’s West Wing character had previously suffered a near fatal heart attack on the show.

Who was John Spencer : Spencer (born John Speshock) was an American actor, best known for his role as Leo McGarry on the series The West Wing.

Spencer grew up in New Jersey, the son of working class parents, and trained alongside Liza Minneli at Manhatten’s Professional Children's School. As a teenager he had a role on The Patty Duke Show and throughout his early career he appeared principally in theatrical roles. These included performances in The Glass Menagerie and Still Life as a Vietnam veteran.

He made his feature film debut in 1983’s WarGames and went on to appear in Black Rain, Sea of Love and The Protector. His break came with his supporting role in 1990’s Presumed Innocent, as Harrison Ford’s detective partner Lipranzer. This led to a role in the final four seasons of L.A. Law as street smart attorney Tommy Mullaney from 1990 till 1994. Further films role followed in Forget Paris, The Rock, Cop Land and Albino Alligator, alongside appearances on Tracey Takes On and Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.

But it was as White House Chief of Staff and later Vice Presidential nominee Leo McGarry on NBC’s The West Wing which proved to be his most memorable and indeed final role. The tough McGarry was a recovering alcoholic, just as Spencer was in real life. The role earned him acclaim and an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series in 2002, as well as a Golden Globe nomination. Spencer played the role throughout the show’s seven seasons, from 1999 to 2006, dying during production of the seventh. His death was incorporated into the show and McGarry also dies of a heart attack on Election Night.
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7 Signatures in John Spencer's guestbook

  1. mazin Says:

    Iam really upset while writting these words, but all I want to say he was great.

  2. Jane Harper Says:

    John did not actually die of a heart attack – he had been fighting lung cancer for two years including a partial lung resection at the University of Kentucky Medical Center. This had been hidden from the public because such an illness would have made it impossible for the producers of The West Wing to get him insured, and then he could not work, and work was the only thing keeping him alive. Aaron Sorkin commented at the time of John’s death that only a consummate gentleman like John Spencer would make sure his last days came during a shooting break, and thus not impair the work of the company …

  3. Alex Gibson Says:

    Jane Harper, I see you edited Wikipedia with that citing “an email from Bradley Whitford”. If it’s true, why, five years after his death, has no one actually officially announced it? It’s not like some national security matter, so why, once he had died, would they ‘pretend’ he had died of a heart attack rather than lung cancer? If not disclosing his illness was only done because they needed insurance while he was alive, why would they then hide it after his death? That’s makes no sense.

  4. HM Says:

    John Spencer brought us one of the most loved, respected and adored charactors, in indisputably one of the greatest television dramas of all time. I hope he had some idea how much enjoyment his gifted acting brought to people like me – and I hope that he too experienced such joy in his life. May his heart be singing in the afterlife.

  5. John M Redmond Says:

    What a true actor. And from all accounts what a gentleman off screen.Icame to the West Wing way after the show was off the air; Leo was favorite character.I was deeply saddened when I found out about his death and is painful as I am presently watching Season Seven.

  6. Mary c Says:


  7. Idi Amin Dada Says:

    Filthy juden

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