Mark York, the actor best known for playing Billy Merchant on the NBC sitcom “The Office,” died last week in Dayton, Ohio. He was 55.
His death was confirmed by the Montgomery County coroner’s office, which said on Tuesday that he had died in a hospital of natural causes. Mr. York’s family said in an obituary that he had died after “a brief and unexpected illness.”
Mr. York appeared in four episodes of “The Office” from 2006 to 2009 as the property manager of the office park where Dunder Mifflin, the fictional paper company at the center of the series, made its home. His character, Billy Merchant, who like Mr. York was a paraplegic, was introduced in the second season when Michael Scott, the bumbling branch manager played by Steve Carell, brought him to the office for a cringe-inducing meeting on disability awareness.
In the scene, Mr. York’s character gamely answers Michael’s clueless questions about his wheelchair use. But when Michael tries to equate it with burning his foot on a George Foreman grill, Billy interrupts: “You know what, Michael? Let me stop you right there … and leave.”
“The letters I get about the character are great,” Mr. York told People magazine in 2010, saying one fan had written that he “shed light on how crazy office politics can be” for workers with disabilities who are just trying to do their jobs.
Making wheelchair users more visible onscreen was only one of Mr. York’s goals. He also supported efforts to find a cure for spinal cord injuries, serving as the Southern California representative for SCI Research Advancement, a nonprofit foundation that works to expedite research.
“He would constantly come up with ideas for us, and ultimately he came up with an idea to contact the White House,” Will Ambler, the founder of the group, said in an interview.
In January 2010, Mr. York, Mr. Ambler and one of the foundation’s board members met in Washington with Kareem Dale, President Barack Obama’s special assistant for disability policy, and other government officials. Mr. York, an avid traveler, drove there from Ohio in his car, a red Dodge Magnum with hand controls that he called Roxanne and had more than 300,000 miles on it.
For wheelchair users, driving is a way of regaining freedom, and Mr. York “just took it to the highest level he could,” Mr. Ambler said, adding, “He was liberated, he was free and he could go anywhere he wanted.”
Although they didn’t get the changes that they proposed, the group has pressed on and Mr. York had recently suggested approaching the White House again.
“He was working on it until the very end,” Mr. Ambler said.
Cast members from “The Office” shared their condolences on Twitter.
“He was a terrific human, a positive force and a dynamic actor,” said Rainn Wilson, who played Dwight Schrute.
Marcus A. York was born on Nov. 27, 1965, in Arcanum, Ohio, and graduated from Arcanum High School. In 1988, a car accident left him disabled. The accident gave him “a new lease on life,” according to a biography on his website, and he graduated from Anderson University in Indiana with majors in psychology, sociology and social work. While he was in college, friends encouraged Mr. York to pursue modeling and acting, and he later moved to California.
In addition to television commercials, Mr. York appeared in the shows “8 Simple Rules” and “CSI: NY.” He also had an uncredited role in the 2001 film “A.I. Artificial Intelligence.”
According to his obituary, he had been working in recent years as an inventor and had obtained two patents.
Mr. York is survived by his parents, Glenn and Becky York, and three brothers, Brian, Jeff and David.
Mark York, Actor on ‘The Office,’ Dies at 55
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