CNN is reporting that John Spencer has died:
John Spencer, who played a dedicated politico on “The West Wing” who survived a serious illness to run for vice president, died of a heart attack Friday, his publicist said.
Spencer, 58, died at a Los Angeles hospital, said publicist Ron Hofmann. He would have been 59 next week.
Leo, his West Wing character, has in my mind always been the character that made the show what it was. Spencer played a perfectly believable politician and a great leader who managed to keep the White House on track week after week.. and through some particularly nasty situations – all made for TV of course.
My two favorite scenes with Leo both happened around the same time. First, the episode “Bartlett for America” where Leo is put on the stand before Congress to talk about what he knew about the President’s illness. It told a wonderful backstory and outlined more about Leo’s alcoholism.. and it ended with Leo crying in his office after receiving a Christmas gift from the President….
The best scene with Leo though was the one following Josh’s session with a psychologist.. where Leo waited for hours to make sure Josh was ok.. and this ending is perhaps the best epitaph for Spencer, who was an alcoholic in real-life as well as on television:
This guy’s walking down a street, when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can’t get out.
A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, “Hey you! Can you help me out?” The doctor writes him a prescription, throws it down the hole, and moves on.
Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up, “Father, I’m down in this hole! Can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole, and moves on.
Then a friend walks by. “Hey Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole! Our guy says “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here!” And the friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”