March 8, 2004 by

Spalding Gray


Categories: Actors, Writers/Editors

sgray.jpgSpalding Gray, the actor and monologist who disappeared two months ago, has died. His body was found in the East River over the weekend. He was 62.
Gray’s wife, Kathleen Russo, reported his disappearance to the police on Jan. 11. He had a history of depression, and previously attempted suicide in 2002.
Gray grew up in Rhode Island and graduated from Emerson College. In 1977, he co-founded the Wooster Group, an experimental theater group, with Elizabeth LaCompte, Jim Clayburgh, Willem Dafoe, Peyton Smith, Kate Valk and Ron Vawter. He appeared on Broadway as the Stage Manager in the revival of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” in the early 1990s, and published several books including, “Gray’s Anatomy,” “Sex and Death to the Age 14” and “Morning, Noon and Night.”
Known for his one-man shows, Gray would spend hours on stage discussing his life and neuroses. He starred in the 1987 film, “Swimming to Cambodia,” which was based on his Obie-winning monologue of the same name. He also appeared in the films “The Killing Fields,” “Beaches,” “The Paper” and “Kate & Leopold.”
“When I’m doing my monologue, I’m in my element. I am most me when I’m on stage. I’m getting closer to enjoying life. I tell my edited life story with … more energy than the way I live my life,” he said in a 1997 interview with The Associated Press.

18 Responses to Spalding Gray

  1. chuffnutt

    So sad that such a great talent is gone. Depression claims another one. Not many people will realize what a funny performer/writer he was. I never got the priviledge to see him live, but he’s imortalized in film. Are there not enough people who mourn him? I’m surprised I’m the only one!

  2. Mrtwisty

    I only ever saw Spalding Gray in ‘Swimming to Cambodia’ and ‘The Killing Fields’. The first made me laugh till I cried and think till my head hurt. The second made me just cry and think. A wonderful talent that will be sadly missed.

  3. trip

    I’m saddened over the news. I was hoping that if he’d really, finally done it, that he would not be found. That only satisfied my own personal desire to remain in denial. I came to know him on a business and personal level for a short time. He was a study in the powers of human creativity, wrapped up in all its accompanying frailties. As I sruggled with my own demons of despression, he once warned me that it is his nature to leak his psychosis into others. I didn’t want to believe it, but it seemed like a very real possibility. Enough so, that I politely declined his offer of tickets to a performance and a chance to go for dinner that last time he was in town. The leakage gave me this strange feeling today that I experienced what his last moment was like — when the icy cold waters must have shocked him into the realization that there was no turning back. I imagined him doing the backstroke, at peace, as the cold sapped him of energy and into the long sleep. Swim on, Spalding.

  4. Kay

    the street bears no relief
    when everybody’s fighting
    the street bears no relief
    with light so hot and binding
    I run the stairs away
    and walk into the nighttime
    the sadness flows like water
    and washes down the heartache
    and washes down the heartache
    my heart is full
    my heart is wide
    the saddest song to play
    on the strings of my heart
    the heat is on its own
    the roof seems so inviting
    a vantage point is gained
    to watch the children fighting
    so lead me to the harbour
    and float me on the waves
    sink me in the ocean
    to sleep in a sailor’s grave
    to sleep in a sailor’s grave
    my heart is full
    my heart is wide
    the saddest song to play
    on the strings of my heart
    my heart is full
    my heart is wide, so wide
    the saddest song to play
    on the strings of my heart

  5. Stephanie

    It is so sad that he is gone from this world. His talent was such that I felt that I knew him – even though I had only watched his films and read his book. Strangely, I just got his final film, Gray’s Anatomy, from Netflix in my mailbox – I had put in in my list before I even imagined he was dead. I am finding it difficult to play the movie.

  6. ACitizenoftheWorld

    “I remember standing in that second-story window and looking down, wondering if I really had the courage to jump and if I did would it kill me from such a small height. I think I figured I’d just break a leg or something and end up in a cast for the rest of the summer, and that would be much better than dying because of all the attention I’d get. But then I also realized that Mom wouldn’t be able to give me any attention, because she was cracking up and needed all of it for herself.” ~ Spalding Gray
    Wherever Spalding is right now… He’s got all the attention in the afterlife.

  7. a f waddell

    Essence of Spalding; Flying to Nirvana
    by A. F. Waddell
    His words were real: life feeding back upon itself; his props were basic: a folding chair, a wooden table, a notebook, a glass of water, a microphone. Energy seemed barely contained under his brown-to-gray hair, suntanned skin, plaid shirt, and jeans. Wait. Did he wear cords? I can’t remember. As I recall, he didn’t often stand up.
    I first became familiar with Spalding Gray in the 1980s. I remember asking the Waldenbooks clerk: “Do you have Sex and Death to the Age 14 ?” He checked his computer. “No. But how about In Search of the Monkey Girl?” he asked, narrowing his eyes.
    Essence of Spalding: add a dash of the metaphysical, a splash of the karmic; drench it in psychology and sharp social insight/satire; pour in organic, personal, stream of consciousness storytelling. Spalding intimately shared his life experiences with us. I never had the opportunity to attend a monologue performance, but devoured his books and filmed performances.
    I was a budding, inhibited writer: astounded by Spalding’s honesty, wit, lack of inhibition, style, and lyrical descriptive ability. I identified with him: a weak boundary issue no doubt; too many too easily invaded. It’s been said that psychotherapy may destroy creativity: not Spalding’s.
    I was unaware of Spalding and Kathie’s 2001 car accident, until Spalding went missing in January 2004. I was totally shocked. His life must have been hellish after his injuries and surgeries. Managable pre-existing depression must have gone ballistic. How ironical and sad that he’d at last reached a contentment in marriage and fatherhood, only to have his life slammed by a van on a lonely Ireland road.
    One January night I dug through my videos and found Monster in a Box. I’d not viewed it in years. I turned off the lights and lit candles. I was once again enthralled by Spalding’s energy and words. And I couldn’t get my mind around the fact that he was likely gone from earth — hopefully, flying to nirvana.
    In the last few years I ocassionally searched for his web presence and found nada. I imagined that he was too busy with life and love and art to be concerned with the relative banality of flickering cyberspace. I however learned that shortly before his disappearance, Spalding and dedicated fan John Boland discussed the creation of

  8. FHB

    Nothing could have stunned me more than to learn of Spuddy Gray’s death. My friends and I used to read each other passages from Sex and Death on long car rides and think about Spalding and the Wooster Group and our own survival. Depression was something to be overcome, something that we all could transcend. When he died, I felt lost. We are still alive. He is not, just like his mother. I am still lost. I know death is not the answer. I don’t understand how he could have betrayed us.

  9. Arts Supporter

    I would appreciate someone informing me why Spaulding Gray received medical care in Ireland. Could he not have been airlifted to New York for care? He was a very talented icon that represented an era of creative experimental NY theatre and performance.

  10. Amber Berglund

    I met Spalding Gray once, at a book signing at the Border’s Books in Westwood Village, in Los Angeles California in the summer of 1999. I told him I admired him and that his writing really helped me with my fears and phobias. He laughed. I bought three books, which he signed, and he told me it was nice to meet me. I was in the Washington D.C. bar called “Off The Record” (right behind the White House) when someone in a suit mentioned that they found his body floating in the east river. I guess I was shocked, but not really surprised, after reading his “Impossible Vacation.” In any case, the fact of his death upset me so much, I ordered two double Dewars and I ended up vomiting all over this finely dressed woman in silk next to me. I settled my bill and escaped, running from the bar, leaving my pretty gauze scarf and my barf behind me. I was filled with a mixture of mortified embarrassment and deep sadness that Spaulding Gray had lost his battle with depression and insanity.

  11. Carol Barclay Medeiros

    i have not recovered from this news. hence it is 3/9/05 and it is still news to me.
    no, i don’t dwell on it, but every time i am reminded of this loss that i still don’t believe (why, i cannot logically defend)- the pang remains.
    i suppose that makes sense. as a would-be writer whose entire family struggles w/depression, i understand pangs that don’t pass; such as his over his mother’s suicide. perhaps i can move from denial to anger at his mother for passing on the genes, or creating the conditions, or both, for his decision.
    i have only had this reaction to one other death; that of the dearest smartest funniest person i KNEW – my grandmother. i never met spalding gray. how powerful an energy he still emits today. and yes, so his family knows – a strong, positive energy that inspires me and always will.
    i saw spalding gray perform ‘gray’s anatomy’ at UC Davis, California. he seemed extremely ill at ease at our laughter; even at things that i know he intended to be funny. i attributed it to the changes in his life at that time. but in all his performances and writings, the anxiety that would drive him to this was exposed with the courage that all of us wish we had.
    such a delicate flower exposed to the forces of nature for so long and so brutally….thank you spalding for sharing your brilliance as long as you possibly could.

  12. JD

    Like most things in life, I come late to the forum. I didn’t get my ears pierced until I was 28; didn’t take my first drink until 26; and so it goes.
    I miss his presence, his life force on earth. Glad to know there are others he touched; closely and 2nd hand. I feel his peace now. And his sorrow at learning and leaving peace on earth.
    I am angry he’s left us, but understand his anguish and struggle; more brave than we know; more funny than most.

  13. Michael Dominici

    I never knew the details of Spaulding’s death, but, considering the fate of his own mother, it doesn’t surprise me. Spaulding had that uncanny ability to convey a rich, complex, extremely intelligent and aware perspective in a way that was utterly human, beautiful, hilarious, touching, and intense. There were others that had a similar approach but nobody rang as true as Spaulding. I had the pleasure of seeing him perform in St. Louis, Missouri in the late ’80s and then drove all the way back to New Orleans to work the next morning (almost falling asleep at the wheel in the process.) This is an enormous loss. I pray for his family and friends who are feeling this loss a thousand fold.

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