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Please read Joan Chittister's column this week. (...in these children the seeds of the next war have already been planted. Sobering thought!)
R. I. P.
12 April 2006
Leo McGarry is dead.
John Spencer is dead.
West Wing is dead.
It's not like Sunday's episode of the long-running West Wing took anybody by surprise. The only "surprise" was when and how they were going to deal with actor John Spencer's death. We knew they were going to let Leo die, but we didn't know how.
Throughout my life, there have been a handful of celebrity deaths which have affected me. The first, of course, was Judy Garland, in 1969. The second was Jim Henson in 1990 (Our "Kermit" still sits by the fireplace wearing his black arm band). The third was Mister Rogers, who was such a huge figure in our kids young years, and as a mother, I appreciated his calm and gentle conversations with children. And really, there hasn't been another death that has affected me since Fred Rogers died in 2003 until John Spencer's death. I can't look at the funeral photo here without crying.
And I don't really know why. I loved his character (Tommy Mulaney) in L.A. Law and loved the relationship between Leo McGarry and Jed Bartlett on West Wing. I never really thought of John Spencer as "one of my favorite actors" or anything else. I know absolutely nothing about his life or his career, and never had any desire to. But I guess it was the whole emotion surrounding not only the actor's death, but the death of the character I enjoyed so much.
Maybe it was because I wished that Leo were sitting in Karl Rove's seat and Bartlett in the Oval Office.
MOSTLY it was because I wished that Leo were sitting in Karl Rove's seat and Bartlett in the Oval Office!
There's a problem when television is more appealing than reality, but the writers of The West Wing really created an administration that you could believe. I could imagine Bill Clinton's White House running very similar to the Bartlett White House. I can't in my wildest dreams feel the same way about the current administration. (Would Bartlett give this kind of address?)
So on Sunday, we saw everybody's response to Leo's unexpected death, and the confusion in the Santos campaign as it became apparent that his death might affect the vote in the Western states, whose voting stations had not yet closed. I don't follow TV shows enough to know who is writing scripts for West Wing these days, but this one was perfect. Maybe that's why I went through half a box of Kleenex (and am crying as I write this). It was just handled like it was written by someone who had been there.
Next week I'm planning on laying in a larger supply because next week will be the funeral and it hits too close to home.
A character I cared about being eulogized and buried, characters I care about mourning his passing...and presumably the actors playing those characters mourning the passing of the man who played the character being buried.
Too many layers laden with a blend of truth and fantasy. Are those tears real or acting? And do the actors know themselves? I remember the first production of Yeomen of the Guard after Gilbert died, and actress Jane Hammet saying that her character, Elsie Maynard, was supposed to cry and that she found her tears came easily because her emotions were so close to the surface.
I'm probably making too much out of the death of a television character, but it's tied up with all sorts of things, not the least of which is depression over the current (real) political climate.
So on Sunday, I will cry with all of the West Wing staff as they watch Leo McGarry being laid to rest.
The following week we will all watch The West Wing being laid to rest.
May everybody rest in peace.
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