Mostly Credited As: John Spencer
Birth Name: John Speshock
Date Of Birth: December 20, 1946 (Age 58)
Country Of Birth: USA
Birth Place: New York City, New York
Date Of Death: December 16, 2005
Cause Of Death: Heart Attack (Los Angeles, California)
Height: 5' 6 ½" (1.68 m)
John was the only son of a lower middle-class family. His father, John Speshock, was a truck driver. His mother, Mildred, was a homemaker and an occasional waitress. He grew up near Paterson, New Jersey, but left at age 16 to attend the Professional Children's School. Spencer began his professional acting career at age sixteen when he left his home in Patterson, New Jersey to pursue his passion. While attending Professional Children's School in the city, he earned catalog modeling jobs, leading to his first television role as Henry Anderson, the boyfriend of the English twin on The Patty Duke Show. Following high school, Spencer enrolled at Fairleigh Dickenson University, earning a consistent spot on the Dean's List.
He returned to New York to understudy the lead in "Butterflies Are Free," a role he subsequently played on tour. Regional theatre opened up for Spencer, leading him to seek out new plays by new playwrights and providing him entry into the New York theatre scene. From 1974-81 he performed in such stage works as David Mamet's "Lakeboat," Michael Weller's "Fishing and Loose Ends," John Hopkins' "This Story of Yours," and the gentleman caller in Tennessee William's "The Glass Menagerie" and "Still Life". The latter production, about a Vietnam vet, went on to earn Spencer an Obie Award during its off-Broadway run in 1981. A Drama Desk nomination later came for his performance in "The Day Room". He also portrayed Dan White in the critically acclaimed production of "Execution of Justice". Other stage appearances include Terrence McNally's "Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune," Peter Hedges' "Good as New," "Amulets Against the Dragon Forces," and "Pera Palas" among others.
When "Still Life" came to the Los Angeles stage, Spencer opened a new door with his first feature film role, a bit part as a military grunt who won't push "the button" during the opening scene of War Games. His natural charisma and strength led to authority roles: Al Pacino's boss in Sea of Love and Michael Douglas' in Black Rain, with Harrison Ford as Detective Lipranzer in Presumed Innocent ("a watershed role," said Spencer), Billy Crystal's basketball referee friend in Forget Paris, Harvey Keitel's partner in Copland. More recently Spencer has moved between studio and independent projects, taking roles in Cafe Society, Albino Alligator, Lesser Prophets, Ravenous, Cold Heart, and Green Card while coming down usually on the side of the law in The Rock, Twilight, and The Negotiator.
After seeing his work in Presumed Innocent, producer David E. Kelley invited Spencer to join the cast of L.A. Law for the final four of its eight-year run. From 1990-94 he mesmerized audiences with his tough, funny portrayal of Tommy Mullaney, reinvigorating the series and solidifying his reputation as a preeminent character actor. Spencer appeared in the highly rated telefilm, The Tangled Web starred in Joseph Wambaugh's A Jury of One and guest starred on such episodic series as Miami Vice, Spenser for Hire, Law & Order, Touched By An Angel, The Outer Limits, FX, Early Edition, Lois & Clark and Tracey Takes On... He also portrayed Simon McCallister on the drama Trinity. A few years ago he created the role of ex-jazz musician, ex-junkie Martin Glimmer in the world premiere of Warren Leight's "The Glimmer Brothers" at the Williamstown Theater Festival. Spencer played the part of Martin Glimmer in "Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine" (same play, new title) in Los Angeles at the Mark Taper Forum and the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York City to rave reviews.
Known for his dedication, authenticity and generosity as an actor, John was always quick to share his success as an actor with the tremendous good fortune of working with the world's finest writers and actors. From David E. Kelly to Warren Leight to his recent collaboration with Aaron Sorkin and John Wells, actors Martin Sheen to Stockard Channing, to Harrison Ford to Al Pacino, he would always credit his fellow actors and the words on the page for allowing him to stretch as an actor. On the morning of December 16, 2005, Spencer suffered a heart attack at his California home. He was 58.