Wendie Jo Sperber, 47; Actress Drew on Her Battle With Cancer to Found Support Center for Patients

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Wendie Jo Sperber, a comedic actress who appeared with Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari in the 1980s situation comedy “Bosom Buddies” and founded a cancer support center after being diagnosed with breast cancer, has died. She was 47.

Sperber, whose cancer was detected in 1997, died Tuesday at her home in Sherman Oaks, her publicist said.

In “Bosom Buddies,” Sperber played bubbly Amy Cassidy, the only resident of the all-girls hotel who knew that “Hildegarde” and “Buffy” were really male advertising agency employees (Scolari and Hanks), who dressed in drag so they could live there after their inexpensive New York apartment was demolished.

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“Besides being one of the funniest women who ever lived, she had a way of lighting up the screen,” Telma Hopkins, who played Isabelle, the hotel manager on the series, told The Times on Thursday.

“One of the things I loved about her was she enjoyed physical comedy,” Hopkins said. “That’s what she had in common with Lucille Ball, Laverne and Shirley [Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams] and Nell Carter -- that willingness to go the extra mile for the comedy no matter how it made you look.

A native of Northridge, Sperber also co-starred in the 1990 sitcom “Babes” and was a regular on “Private Benjamin,” “Women in Prison” and “Hearts Afire.”

Among her movie credits are “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” “Corvette Summer,” “Used Cars,” “1941,” “Back to the Future” (Parts I and III, as Linda McFly), “Moving Violations” and “Bachelor Party.” Her theater credits include local productions of “Isn’t It Romantic?” and “As You Like It.”

In 2001, after three years of fundraising, Sperber founded weSPARK Cancer Support Center in Sherman Oaks.

The nonprofit center provides free emotional support, research information and social activities for patients and their families.

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Sperber got the idea for the center after working on a 1998 episode of “Murphy Brown” in which she appeared with several other celebrity cancer survivors.

“All these actresses had already gone through what I was about to,” she told People magazine in 2002. “It was my very first support group.”

Hopkins, who worked with Sperber on several weSPARK benefits, said that “cancer did not define her life.”

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“Instead,” she said, “she used the adversity of having cancer to grow more, to help more people, to be more.”

Sperber, who helped unveil and promote the breast cancer stamp for the U.S. Postal Service in 1998, was named 1999 Woman of the Year by the Los Angeles County Commission for Women.

“The memory of Wendie Jo is that of a walking inspiration,” Hanks said in a statement. “She met the challenges of her illness with love, cheer, joy, altruism through weSPARK, and an unstoppable supply of goodness. We are going to miss her as surely as we are all better for knowing her.”

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She is survived by a son and daughter; her parents, Charlene and Burt; her sisters, Ellice and Michelle; and her brother, Richard.

The family requests that donations in Sperber’s memory be made to weSPARK, 13520 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, CA 91423.

A private funeral service will be held today.

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