Tuesday, January 03, 2006

John Spencer 1946-2005

As you may know, the actor John Spencer passed away December 16th after a heart attack. This isn't really going to be a proper obituary. After all I was not fortunate enough to ever meet John Spencer. So, I knew him as that guy on the TV screen. Or the movie screen (he was great as the hateful FBI guy in "The Rock"). Although he was on television starting in the 60's, I first remember him as Tommy Mulraney on "L.A. Law". Tommy was one of those guys you underestimate, he looked like a slacker with his real tan and his aloha shirts and his seemingly simple approach. But then, he would get you.
His character Leo on "The West Wing" - which he played for six years - was a little different. As chief of staff, Leo always wore suits. But he still seemed like a guy you could talk to. And Leo was always striving to hold himself (and everyone) to the highest standards. He saw the good that government could do, and despite the missteps and other errors the administration committed, he remained convinced (and convincing) that working in and for the government was a wonderful and awesome privilege and that they should always work to remain worthy of it.
Now you are wondering why I am talking about the fictional characters that John Spencer played. Partly, it is because they are my John Spencer experiences. And partly it is because part of John Spencer's gift was making you believe he was not acting, but just being. And this was added to as pieces of John Spencer's life - such as his struggle with addiction - were incorporated into his character of Leo.
And so, I have a story to tell about how I came to be a fan of "The West Wing". I was in a singing group that rehearsed Wednesday nights, so had given up Wednesday television. So I missed the debut season of "The West Wing". As it turned out, my birthday fell on the day they aired the first episode of the second season (they ended the season with shots being fired, so it was a cliffhanger). My sister was over to celebrate with me, but as we sat to eat she told me we needed to be done in time for "Dawson's Creek". Never having watched the show, I still felt qualified to inform her that we were going to eat as normal and she could catch up on the goings on at the Creek some other time. She conceded that but then said that she could not miss "The West Wing" and explained that shots had been fired and she needed to know if anyone was hurt. I had not heard of "The West Wing" (although I was a fan of both Aaron Sorkin and John Wells). So, my sister was my guide that evening as I was introduced to "The West Wing". And I'm still watching today.