John Spencer

Actor
A legend of regional theatre long before he first appeared on television, talented character actor John Spencer was first renowned in New York circles for his electrifying performances onstage throughout the 1970's and ... Read more »
Born: 12/20/1946 in Paterson, New Jersey, USA

Filmography

Actor (51)

Facing the Giants 2006 (Movie)

Good Samaritan (Actor)

The West Wing 1999 - 2006 (TV Show)

Actor

Celebrity Poker Showdown 1992 - 1994, 2003 - 2004 (Tv Show)

Actor

Early Edition 1990 - 1998, 2003 - 2004 (Tv Show)

Actor

L.A. Law 1990 - 1994, 2003 - 2004 (Tv Show)

Actor

Law & Order 1990 - 1997, 2003 - 2004 (Tv Show)

Actor

Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman 1990 - 1997, 2003 - 2004 (Tv Show)

Actor

Touched By an Angel 1990 - 1996, 2003 - 2004 (Tv Show)

Actor

100 Years of Hope and Humor 2002 - 2003 (TV Show)

Actor

7th Annual Prism Awards 2002 - 2003 (TV Show)

Actor

The 57th Annual Tony Awards 2002 - 2003 (TV Show)

Actor

2001 Creative Arts Emmy Awards 2001 - 2002 (TV Show)

Actor

An American Celebration at Ford's Theatre 2001 - 2002 (TV Show)

Actor

L.A. Law: The E! True Hollywood Story 2001 - 2002 (TV Show)

Actor

The 53rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards 2001 - 2002 (TV Show)

Actor

The FBI Files 1998 - 2002 (TV Show)

Actor

Prism Awards 2000 1999 - 2000 (TV Show)

Actor

L.A. Doctors 1998 - 1999 (TV Show)

Actor

Ravenous 1999 (Movie)

General Slauson (Actor)

Tracey Takes On... 1995 - 1999 (TV Show)

Actor

The Negotiator 1998 (Movie)

Chief Al Travis (Actor)

Twilight 1998 (Movie)

Captain Phil Egan (Actor)

Albino Alligator 1997 (Movie)

Jack (Actor)

Cold Heart 1997 (Movie)

Uncle Mike (Actor)

Cop Land 1997 (Movie)

Joe Crasky (Actor)

OK Garage 1996 (Movie)

(Actor)

On Jupiter 1995 - 1996 (TV Show)

Actor

The Rock 1996 (Movie)

FBI Director Womack (Actor)

Forget Paris 1995 (Movie)

Jack (Actor)

Soap Opera Digest Awards 1991 - 1992 (TV Show)

Actor

We're Talkin' Serious Money 1992 (Movie)

Rosemarie's Son (Actor)

The "L.A. Law" 100th Episode Special 1990 - 1991 (TV Show)

Actor

Green Card 1990 (Movie)

Harry (Actor)

Presumed Innocent 1990 (Movie)

Detective Lipranzer (Actor)

Black Rain 1989 (Movie)

Oliver (Actor)

Sea of Love 1989 (Movie)

Lieutenant (Actor)

Gangland 1988 (Movie)

George Sally (Actor)

Simple Justice 1988 (Movie)

Inspector Sullivan (Actor)

Hiding Out 1987 (Movie)

Bakey (Actor)

The Protector 1985 (Movie)

Ko's Pilot (Actor)

Echoes 1983 (Movie)

Stephen (Actor)

Wargames 1983 (Movie)

Jerry (Actor)

Cafe Society (TV Show)

Actor

Cocaine and Blue Eyes (TV Show)

Actor

In the Arms of a Killer (TV Show)

Actor

Trinity (TV Show)

Actor

When No One Would Listen (TV Show)

Actor

Biography

A legend of regional theatre long before he first appeared on television, talented character actor John Spencer was first renowned in New York circles for his electrifying performances onstage throughout the 1970's and 1980's - even winning the coveted Obie Award for his work in the 1981 off-Broadway production of "Still Life. " But it was not until he made his on-screen debut in 1983's sci-fi thriller "WarGames" that landed on Hollywood's radar, culminating in a long career as a go-to TV series actor - most famously as White House chief of staff Leo McGarry on "The West Wing" (NBC, 1999-2006).

Born John Speshock on Dec. 20, 1946, Spencer was the only child of Ukrainian and Irish-American parents. Raised in a blue-collar Roman- Catholic home, Spencer was "weaned on television," but fell in love with live theatre as a young boy. By grade school, Spencer's career path was already set - at the age of 12, he directed and starred in his own production of "My Fair Lady." In 1962, Spencer enrolled at the Professional Children's School in Manhattan, where he studied alongside classmate Liza Minnelli. Spencer's first major television role was as recurring character Henry Anderson, the lovestruck boyfriend of Cousin Kathy on "The Patty Duke Show", (ABC, 1963-66). Spencer left Hollywood in 1968, however, to return to New York and his first great love - the live stage.

Starting in regional theatre in the early 1970's, Spencer gained a solid reputation as a fearless actor. Between 1974 and 1980, Spencer performed in such stage works as Tennessee Williams's "The Glass Menagerie," Don Delillo's "The Day Room" and David Mamet's "Lakeboat." Spencer was most celebrated, however, for his 1981 Obie Award-winning performance as a haunted Vietnam vet in Emily Mann's "Still Life," for which he was honored as Best Actor. When "Still Life" came to the Los Angeles stage in 1983, Spencer was personally tapped by director John Badham to star in the minor role of Jerry Lawson in his upcoming project, "War Games." The Matthew Broderick thriller benefited greatly from the political climate at the time - with the U.S.S.R. still a viable nuclear threat to the States - all of which helped make the film a huge summer hit.

Throughout the 1980's, Spencer landed a number of small roles in such films as "Hiding Out" (1987), "Sea of Love" (1989) and "Black Rain" (1989), but his watershed role came in 1990, in the courtroom thriller "Presumed Innocent" directed by Alan J. Pakula. In it, Spencer played Dan Lipranzer, a detective and loyal friend to Assistant D.A. Rusty Sabich, played by Harrison Ford. The success of the film and acclaim "Presumed Innocent" brought the supporting actor, would lead to his next gig and a return to the small screen.

In 1990, Spencer was hired by producer David E. Kelley for the recurring role of scrappy, street-smart defense attorney, Tommy Mullaney, on the long-running legal drama, "L.A. Law" (NBC, 1986-1994). Spencer's character proved popular enough that he eventually joined the cast as a series regular starting in 1991.

Spencer's most famous television role, however, would be his last. In 1999, the acclaimed actor landed the role of White House chief of staff Leo McGarry on "The West Wing." A recovering alcoholic like Spencer, himself, the curmudgeonly, but compassionate McGarry became a much-loved character who often served as the show's moral compass. In 2002, Spencer received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor for his signature role.

To the surprise of family and friends - and the shock of his 'West Wing" co-workers who were in the process of wrapping up the show's final season - Spencer suffered a fatal heart attack and died at a Los Angeles hospital on Dec. 16, 2005, just four days shy of his 59th birthday. At the time of his unexpected death, the actor had already appeared in two of the five "West Wing" episodes in post-production. Spencer's death was subsequently written into the show by having McGarry (who, by then, had become the Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate) die of a heart attack on the eve of election night.

Relationships

Patti Mariano

Companion
together since 1990

Mildred Speschock

Mother

John Speshock

Father

EDUCATION

Professional Children's School

New York , New York
classmates included Liza Minnelli and Pinchus Zukerman

Farleigh Dickinson University

Rutherford , New Jersey
attended for two years

New York University

New York , New York
attended

Milestones

2001

Acted in L.A. premiere of Warren Leight's revised play, now titles "Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine"; reprised role of a jazz musician in the Off-Broadway production in summer

1999

Had featured role as presidential chief of staff Leo McGarry in the ensemble of the NBC drama series "The West Wing"; received Emmy (2000, 2001, 2003, 2004) and Golden Globe (2002) nominations

1999

Performed in Warren Leight's play "The Glimmer Brothers" at Williamstown Theatre Festival

1998

Acted in "Twilight" and "The Negotiator"

1998

Returned to series TV as the patriarch of an Irish Catholic family in the short-lived NBC drama "Trinity"

1998

Returned to the NYC stage in "Pera Palas"

1997

Had featured role in "Cop Land"

1996

Appeared as an FBI agent in "The Rock"

1996

Co-starred in the acclaimed "Cafe Society" (premiered on Showtime before receiving theatrical release)

1990

Co-starred as a detective in "Presumed Innocent"

1990

TV series debut as regular, played lawyer Tommy Mullaney on NBC's legal drama "L.A. Law"

1989

Supported Al Pacino in "Sea of Love"

1987

Musical stage debut in "Carousel" at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC

1986

Starred in the Broadway production of "Execution of Justice" by Emily Mann; played Dan White, the killer of San Francisco mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk

1983

TV-movie debut, "Cocaine and Blue Eyes" (NBC), starring O.J. Simpson

1983

Feature film debut in "WarGames"

1981

Breakthrough stage role in "Still Life", a drama by Emily Mann

1980

Understudied John Rubinstein in the play "Children of a Lesser God"

1975

Acted in regional theater with such companies as the Barter Theatre in Virginia, the Studio Arena Theater in Buffalo, New York and the Cincinnati Playhouse

1973

Was an understudy with the New York Shakespeare Festival's production of "Boom Boom Room" by David Rabe

1969

Was stage manager and understudy for lead role in a touring production of "Butterflies Are Free"

1963

At age 16, moved to NYC to pursue an acting career; adopted stage surname of "Spencer"

1963

TV acting debut in a recurring role on "The Patty Duke Show" (ABC)

Acted in the daytime dramas "Guiding Light" and "The Doctors"

Raised in Totawa, New Jersey

Bonus Trivia

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Spencer had originally been cast in "Platoon" (1986) in the role of Sgt. O'Neill but had to withdraw over scheduling conflicts and he was replaced by John C. McGinley.

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In 1989, Spencer quit drinking and has remained sober since.

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Spencer, along with Alison Janney, Bradley Whitford and Richard Schiff nearly didn't make it back for the start of the third season of "The West Wing" as they staged a one-day walkout while salary negotiations were ongoing.

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