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John Aylward, ‘ER’ and ‘The West Wing’ actor, dies at 75

Aylward also made appearances on "Yellowstone," "Mad Men" and "The X-Files."
Actor John Aylward in a scene from "ER," circa 2005.Chuck Hodes / NBCUniversal via Getty Images file
/ Source: Variety

John Aylward, the actor best known for his recurring roles in popular NBC dramas “ER” and “The West Wing,” died Monday in Seattle from natural causes, his agent Mitchell K. Stubbs confirmed to Variety. He was 75.

Born and raised in Seattle, Aylward graduated from the University of Washington’s school of drama in 1970. He got his start as a theater actor, founding Seattle’s Empty Space Theatre in 1973. He served as a regular in Seattle Repertory Theatre for 15 years.

After getting his start in television with small roles on television films — including “The Secret Life of John Chapman,” “Stamp of a Killer,” “Third Degree Burn,” “Child in the Night” and “With a Vengeance” — Aylward began working more frequently on television in the ’90s, starting with a recurring role on “Northern Exposure.”

Other television shows he had notable recurring and guest spots on over the course of his career included “Grace Under Fire,” “3rd Rock from the Sun,” “Family Law,” “Ally McBeal,” “Dharma & Greg,” “The X-Files,” “Everwood,” “The Practice,” “Nip Tuck,” “Law & Order,” “Boston Legal,” “Alias,” “Mad Men,” “Fringe,” “Shameless” and “Yellowstone.”

Aylward was cast of “ER” in 1996, during its third season, after co-producer Carol Flynt saw him perform in “Psychopathia Sexualis” at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. Aylward played Dr. Donald Anspaugh, a leading board member of the central hospital, and the chief of staff and chief of surgery for much of the show’s run. Aylward appeared in over 70 episodes over the course of the show’s tenure, making his final appearance in 2008 during the show’s 15th and final season.

During the run of “ER,” Aylward also had a notable role the seventh and final season of “The West Wing,” as DNC chairman Barry Goodwin, who advised the election campaign for presidential elect Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits), and eventually helped the transition between Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) and Santos’ administrations. Other notable television roles include a main role in the short-lived 2000 NBC science fiction series “The Others,” and a recurring role in the 2020 USA series “Briarpatch.”

Although best known for his roles on television, Aylward also had supporting roles in several films, including “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III,” “Armageddon,” “Down With Love,” “Water for Elephants,” “The Nowhere Inn” and “The Way Back.” He also voiced Dr. Arne Magnusson in the 2007 video game “Half-Life 2: Episode Two.”

Aylward is survived by his wife Mary Fields.