Saturday, December 17, 2005

John Spencer, RIP

Image hosted by

(image via bbc)

John Spencer, the respected character actor who played the wise and kindly political practitioner Leo McGarry on NBC's amazingly well-written West Wing series died last night in Los Angeles of a heart attack. The loss is ours for he would have made a wonderful fake Vice President; he was going to have a glorious May-December relationship with Kristin Chenowith.

Much has been written today over the synchronicites between Mr. Spencer and the role-of-a-lifetime character he played on television. Lynn Elber of the AP writes:

"Spencer's death by heart attack Friday stunned fellow cast members, who said his health had appeared better recently. The actor, who would have turned 59 Tuesday, died at Olympia Medical Center in Los Angeles after being admitted during the night, said his publicist, Ron Hofmann.

"Spencer played Leo McGarry, the savvy chief of staff to President Josiah 'Jed' Bartlet (Martin Sheen), on the NBC series. In a sad parallel to life, McGarry suffered a heart attack that forced him to give up his White House job.

"... Spencer, whose world-weary countenance was perfect for the role of McGarry, talked about the similarities between himself and his character in a 2000 interview with The AP.

"'Like Leo, I've always been a workaholic, too,' he said. 'Through good times and bad, acting has been my escape, my joy, my nourishment. The drug for me, even better than alcohol, was acting.'"

Spencer was, like the character he played, a divorced and recovering alcoholic who, late in life, achieved the zeneth of his aspirations.

This last episode on Sunday past called "The Wedding" involved a dramatic scene in which Congressman Santos, played by Jimmy Smits, and the Democratic Party overlords in the East Room advocate Spencer's character taking over the day-to-day campaign operations from Josh Lyman, his political protoge, played by Bradley Whitford.

Josh has quite possibly lost the Democrat Party Illinois -- 21 much needed electoral votes -- by ceding the television ad wars to the Republicans too early.

From Westwing.beware:

"(DNC Chair) Goodwin tells Santos, 'Only one guy I'd want to have running a campaign this tough. And that's the guy standing next to you.' Leo starts to laugh until he realizes Santos isn't laughing with him. Fade out on Leo."

Fade out on Leo, indeed. McGarry, out of complicated mix of his natural generosity and political loyalty to his protoge, refuses the offer, instead backing Josh, offering his confidence and a moving pep talk. Then, at episode's end, delivers the line of the evening to a conflicted Santos, who clearly wants Leo to take over the faltering campaign.

Spencer, as McGarry, asks Santos to look within himself in the last days of the trailing race to give the campaign what it needs.

It is with these last poignant lines that we remember John Spenser, workaholic, for bringing into our living rooms for 7 seasons the unforgettable Leo McGarry, a warm-hearted, loyal, idealistic, all-too-human pragmatist.

May John Spencer, the exquisite character actor, rest in peace.

No comments: