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John Spencer (actor)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

John Spencer
JohnSpencer- Actor.jpg
John Speshock Jr.

(1946-12-20)December 20, 1946
DiedDecember 16, 2005(2005-12-16) (aged 58)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting placeLaurel Grove Memorial Park, Totowa, New Jersey
Years active1963–2005
Notable work
Leo McGarry on The West Wing

John Spencer (born John Speshock Jr.; December 20, 1946 – December 16, 2005) was an American actor. He was best known for his role as Leo McGarry on the NBC political drama series The West Wing. His performance on the show earned him a Primetime Emmy Award in 2002.

Early life

John Spencer was born John Speshock, Jr., on December 20, 1946, in New York City, and was raised in Totowa, New Jersey.[1] He was the son of blue-collar parents Mildred (née Benzeroski), a waitress, and John Speshock, Sr., a truck driver.[2] Spencer's father was of Irish and Czech descent,[3] while his mother was of Ukrainian and Rusyn ancestry.[4][5] 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.[6]


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. In 1986 he appeared on Broadway as Dan White, the killer of Harvey Milk, in Execution of Justice, alongside Stanley Tucci and Wesley Snipes. Spencer 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. Spencer's subsequent film and television work primarily consisted of supporting roles such as a colleague and friend to Billy Crystal's basketball ref in Forget Paris and a prickly FBI official in Michael Bay's film The Rock.

In 1999, Spencer was cast as Leo McGarry on the NBC political drama series The West Wing. Spencer's character was White House Chief of Staff to fictional U.S. President Josiah Bartlet; like Spencer, McGarry was a recovering alcoholic. Spencer's role on the show earned him the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series in 2002, for 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.[4] At his private funeral, his West Wing castmate, Kristin Chenoweth, sang the musical number "For Good" from the Broadway musical Wicked. Spencer's remains were interred at Laurel Grove Memorial Park in his hometown of Totowa, New Jersey.

At the time of his death, Spencer had filmed two West Wing episodes that were in post-production – "Running Mates" and "The Cold"[7] – in which he and Jimmy Smits played candidates for vice president and president, respectively.



Year Title Role Notes
1982 Echoes Stephen
1983 WarGames Jerry
1985 The Protector Ko's Pilot
1985 Key Exchange Record Executive
1987 The Verne Miller Story George Sally
1987 Hiding Out Bakey
1989 Far From Home TV Preacher
1989 Sea of Love Lieutenant
1989 Black Rain Captain Oliver
1989 Simple Justice Detective Phil Sullivan
1990 Presumed Innocent Detective Lipranzer
1990 Green Card Harry
1992 In The Arms Of A Killer Detective Cusack TV movie
1995 Forget Paris Jack
1995 Cafe Society Ray Davioni
1996 The Rock FBI Director James Womack
1996 Albino Alligator Jack
1997 Cold Around the Heart Uncle Mike
1997 Cop Land Detective Leo Crasky
1998 Lesser Prophets Ed
1998 Twilight Captain Phil Egan
1998 OK Garage Bill Gunter
1998 The Negotiator Police Chief Al Travis
1999 Ravenous General Slauson


Year Title Role Notes
1963–1964 The Patty Duke Show Henry 7 episodes
1976 Ryan's Hope Orderly 2 episodes
1986 Miami Vice Lieutenant Lee Atkins Episode: "The Good Collar"
1986 Spenser: For Hire Joe Moran Episode: "Home Is the Hero"
1987–1988 Another World Frank Julian Unknown episodes
1988 As the World Turns Don West Unknown episodes
1990 Law & Order Howard Morton Episode: "Prescription for Death"
1990–1994 L.A. Law Tommy Mullaney 71 episodes
1994 Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man Agent Dennehy Episode: "Not So Easy Riders"
1995 Touched by an Angel Leo Episode: "The Driver"
1996 F/X: The Series Carl Scofield Episode: "High Risk"
1997 Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman Hank Landry / Mr. Gadget Episode: "Lethal Weapon"
1997 Tracey Takes On... Ray Weggerly Episode: "Crime"
1997 Early Edition Howard Banner Episode: "Jenny Sloane"
1998 Trinity Simon McAllister 3 episodes
1999–2006 The West Wing Leo McGarry 135 episodes
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (2002)
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series (2000, 2001)
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 (2002–05)
(final appearance)
1999 The Outer Limits Colonel Wallis Thurman Episode: "Summit"
1999 L.A. Doctors Dr. Edmund Church Episode: "The Life Lost in Living"

Video Games

Year Title Role Notes
1996 Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom Captain Hugh Paulsen Voice


Year Nominee / work Award Result
1981 Still Life Obie Award[8] Won
2000 The West Wing Viewers for Quality Television Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Quality Drama Series Won
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series Won
2001 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series Won
2002 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series Won
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series Nominated
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film Nominated
2003 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series Nominated
2004 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series Nominated
2005 Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series Nominated


  1. ^ a b Lee, Jennifer 8. "Obituary: John Spencer, 'West Wing' actor". The New York Times. December 17, 2005.
  2. ^ "John Spencer Biography (1946-)". Film Reference. Retrieved October 1, 2015.
  3. ^ "West Wing Actor John Spencer Dies". People. December 16, 2015.
  4. ^ a b "Obituary: John Spencer, 58, actor on The West Wing" (PDF). The Ukrainian Weekly. January 1, 2006. p. 4.
  5. ^ Custer, Richard D. "A Family Historian’s Guide to Discovering Carpatho-Rusyn Ancestry" Archived 2015-10-06 at the Wayback Machine. FEEFHS Journal. Volume 14, 2006. p. 9.
  6. ^ PBS. "Transcript of October 16, 2004 interview with John Spencer". The Tavis Smiley Show. Retrieved October 1, 2015.
  7. ^ Rebecca Williams (29 January 2015). Post-Object Fandom: Television, Identity and Self-narrative. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 60–. ISBN 978-1-62356-210-6.
  8. ^ "Obie Awards 1980s". Obie Awards. The Village Voice. Archived from the original on October 3, 2015. Retrieved January 20, 2018.

External links

This page was last edited on 5 November 2021, at 03:09
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