John Spencer (actor)

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John Spencer
JohnSpencer- Actor.jpg
Born John Speshock, Jr.
(1946-12-20)December 20, 1946
New York City, New York
Died December 16, 2005(2005-12-16) (aged 58)
Los Angeles, California
Cause of death
Myocardial infarction ("heart attack")
Resting place
Laurel Grove Memorial Park, Totowa, New Jersey
Nationality American
Occupation Actor
Years active 1963–2005
Notable work(s) Leo McGarry on The West Wing
Home town Totowa, New Jersey
Partner(s) Patricia Mariano
Parents John Speshock, Sr.
Mildred Speshock
Awards Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
2002 The West Wing

John Spencer (December 20, 1946 – December 16, 2005) was an American actor. He played White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry on the NBC political drama series The West Wing, for which he had won an Emmy Award in 2002.

Early life[edit]

Spencer was born John Speshock, Jr. in New York City and raised in Totowa, New Jersey.[1] He was the son of blue-collar parents Mildred (née Bincarowski), a waitress, and John Speshock, Sr., a truck driver.[2][3][1] Spencer was of Irish and Rusyn descent. With his enrollment at the Professional Children's School in Manhattan in 1963, Spencer found himself sharing classes with such fellow students as Liza Minnelli and violinist Pinchas Zukerman. He attended Fairleigh Dickinson University, but did not complete a degree.[1] Spencer often referred to himself as a "dyed-in-the-wool liberal" and described Franklin Delano Roosevelt as one of his heroes.[4]


Spencer began his television career on The Patty Duke Show, and eventually began appearing in supporting roles in feature films commencing with 1983's WarGames. He won an Obie Award for the 1981 off Broadway production of Still Life, about a Vietnam War veteran, and received a Drama Desk nomination for "The Day Room." He became a full-fledged supporting actor with the hit 1990 courtroom thriller Presumed Innocent portraying a tough, veteran homicide detective, starring opposite Harrison Ford. The same year, Spencer joined the cast of the television series L.A. Law, playing rumpled, pugnacious, street wise, trial attorney Tommy Mullaney. Spencer's work also extended to video games, portraying the role of Captain Hugh Paulsen in the 1995 video game Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom.

In 1999, Spencer was cast as White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry on the hit NBC political drama series The West Wing. McGarry was later a senior staff consultant to President Josiah Bartlet and a Vice Presidential candidate until his death in 2005. Both Spencer and McGarry were recovering alcoholics. Spencer's role on the show eventually earned him a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series in 2002, after being judged on the show's third season episodes "Bartlet for America" and "We Killed Yamamoto".


Spencer died of a heart attack in a Los Angeles hospital on December 16, 2005, four days before his 59th birthday. At Spencer's private funeral, his West Wing castmate, Kristin Chenoweth, sang the musical number "For Good" from the hit Broadway musical Wicked. Spencer's remains were interred at Laurel Grove Memorial Park in his hometown of Totowa, New Jersey.[5] At the time of his death, Spencer had filmed two of the five West Wing episodes that were in post-production: "Running Mates" and "The Cold". Spencer's death was subsequently written into the show's seventh and final season, in which McGarry was said to have died of a heart attack on election night. It was a strange twist of fate that McGarry had also suffered a life-threatening heart attack earlier in the show's sixth season episode "The Birnam Wood".[6] Spencer's name remained in the opening credits throughout the remainder of the show's seventh and final season.


Year Title Role Notes
1963–1964 The Patty Duke Show Henry 7 episodes
1976 Ryan's Hope Orderly 2 episodes
1979 Meteor Control Center Worker Uncredited
1983 WarGames Jerry
1985 The Protector Ko's Pilot
1986 Miami Vice Lt. Lee Atkins Episode: "The Good Collar"
1986 Spenser: For Hire Joe Moran Episode: "Home Is the Hero"
1987 Hiding Out Bakey
1989 Black Rain Oliver
1989 Far From Home TV Preacher
1989 Sea of Love Lieutenant
1990 Law & Order Howard Morton Episode: "Prescription for Death"
1990 Presumed Innocent Det. Lipranzer
1990 Green Card Harry
1990–1994 L.A. Law Tommy Mullaney 83 episodes
1995 Forget Paris Jack
1995 Touched by an Angel Leo Episode: "The Driver"
1996 The Rock FBI Director James Womack
1997 Cop Land Det. Leo Crasky
1997 The New Adventures of Superman Hank Landry Episode: "Lethal Weapon"
1997 Tracey Takes On... Ray Weggerly Episode: "Crime"
1998 The Negotiator Police Chief Al Travis
1998 Twilight Capt. Phil Egan
1998 Trinity Simon McAllister 3 episodes
1999–2006 The West Wing Leo McGarry 154 episodes
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series (2001–02)
Viewers for Quality Television Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Quality Drama Series
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (2000–01, 2003–04)
Nominated—Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series (2003–06)
1999 Ravenous Gen. Slauson


  1. ^ a b Lee, Jennifer. " Obituary: John Spencer, 'West Wing' actor", International Herald Tribune, December 19, 2005. Accessed June 9, 2007
  2. ^ John Spencer Biography (1946-)
  3. ^ See interview quoted in his Ukrainian Weekly obituary (link in the references section).
  4. ^ October 16, 2004 Interview with John Spencer, Tavis Smiley Show
  5. ^ Browse by Cemetery: Laurel Grove Memorial Park, Find a Grave. Accessed June 9, 2007.
  6. ^ The West Wing, Episode No. 112, "The Birnam Wood," written by John Welles.

External links[edit]