Wendie Jo Sperber
updated 12/19/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 12/19/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST
Trading one-liners with Tom Hanks on the 1980s sitcom Bosom Buddies or cracking jokes with her oncologist, actress Wendie Jo Sperber "dedicated her life to making people feel good," says her brother Richard. That natural habit became a personal crusade after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997. Dissatisfied with the institutional feel of support programs she visited near her Los Angeles-area home, Sperber in 2001 founded a cozy alternative: the weSPARK Cancer Support Center, which offers, gratis, everything from tai chi and jewelry-making classes to holistic treatments and a healing garden. "Helping other people was her emotional support," says her son Spencer, 19, a college student. "She turned a horrible thing into a good thing."
On Nov. 29—five days after celebrating Thanksgiving with Spencer and daughter Daphne, 16, by ex-husband Richard Velasquez, as well as her parents and three siblings—Sperber, 47, died at home. But even as the disease spread, metastasizing to her lungs and bones—and despite taxing chemo and radiation treatments—she had been a constant presence at weSPARK, reaching out to the center's 750 "guests" and organizing fund-raising events, including annual celebrity golf tournaments and variety shows, like the one cohosted last year by her old pal Hanks (who also acted with Sperber in the 1984 flick Bachelor Party). "The memory of Wendie Jo is that of a walking inspiration," Hanks said in a statement. "We are going to miss her as surely as we are all better for knowing her."
The center—and, friends say, the memory of her joyous laugh—will be her legacy. "Whether she's physically present or not, Wendie is here," says longtime friend Nancy Allen, who serves as we SPARK's program director. "And it will always be that way."
-CRED- MIKE GUASTELLA/WIREIMAGE
-CAPT- "We were all very proud of the person Wendie Jo (in '03) became," says Bosom Buddies coster and close friend Peter Scolari.
-CRED- SAL BAUTISTA/STARGAZE
-CAPT- Sperber had "an unstoppable supply of goodness," said Hanks (with her in '04, above; and, left, on Buddies with her and Scolari).
-CRED- ABC PHOTOGRAPHY ARCHIVES