The news of John Spencer’s death from a heart attack on Friday was shocking for a number of reasons. He was just 58 years old, his Emmy-winning role as Leo McGarry on The West Wing seemed to have placed him in the prime of his career, and he had often been the liveliest element in whatever movie or TV series he appeared in — think of him as the streetwise Tommy Mullaney on the last four years of L.A. Law, the endearingly macho NBA referee Jack (who calls all his wives and ex-wives ”Mrs. Jack”) in the otherwise forgettable Forget Paris, and the loyal sleuth who purloins evidence to help Harrison Ford beat a murder rap in Presumed Innocent.

It was also shocking because he’d been so integral to West Wing this season. Eerily, the writers had given Leo a heart attack last year, paving the way for him to step down as White House Chief of Staff and become the vice-presidential running mate of Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits). How can the writers deal with Spencer’s passing? The Hollywood Reporter looks at the challenge facing the West Wing-ers as they try to complete the season without Spencer, while USA Today looks back at how other shows (from Dallas to 8 Simple Rules) dealt with similarly untimely deaths of major cast members.

How would you shape the rest of the West Wing season, PopWatchers?

addCredit(“John Spencer: Jaimie Trueblood/”)