RIP: Spalding (Thanks for the alert, Rachee)


Spalding Gray’s Body Found
by Bridget Byrne
Mar 8, 2004, 4:15 PM PT

The body of actor and monologuist Spalding Gray has been recovered from New York’s East River two months after he vanished.

Identification of the 62-year-old Gray was confirmed Monday through dental records and X-rays, according to the city’s medical examiner. The cause of death is still under investigation.

The New York Post reported earlier Monday that police had suspected the corpse, first spotted off the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn on Sunday afternoon, was Gray. Despite severe decomposition, tattered bits of black corduroy pants were found on the body, similar to those he had being wearing at the time he left his TriBeCa apartment for the last time.

Gray, who had attempted suicide in the past and was known to have deep emotional problems, went missing Jan. 10, leaving behind his wallet and credit cards. He reportedly phoned home hours later, telling his six-year-old son, “I love you.” Several witnesses reported seeing him board the Staten Island Ferry that night.

“We’re hoping now that we have some closure,” his wife, Kathleen Russo, told the Associated Press Monday. “The family will begin to heal.”

Russo earlier said she suspected he was dead but was clinging to a faint belief that she might be wrong.

Speaking to the AP about a week ago, she said, “Everyone that looks like him from behind, I go up and check to make sure it’s not him. If someone calls and hangs up, I always do *69. You’re always thinking Maybe.”

Gray’s one-man band performance pieces usually featured him, clad in a flannel shirt behind a desk, holding forth on his own quirks. His self-deprecating comedic touch undercut the self-involvement of his neurotic WASP angst, enabling it to touch the hearts and minds of a broader audience.

“There’s no area of my life that I haven’t spoken about or confessed or discussed with someone,” he said in a 1999 interview with the LA Weekly.

His best known work was Swimming to Cambodia, which detailed his role in the movie The Killing Fields. The New York performance won an Obie, and the monologue was later turned into a film by Jonathan Demme.

Monster in a Box probed his efforts to write a semiautobiographical novel about family tragedy. Gray’s Anatomy told of his efforts to find a cure for his serious eye problems. Both were also filmed. His rumination on midlife crisis, 1997’s It’s a Slippery Slope, spliced together stories of skiing with his experience as a new father.

Born June 5, 1941, in Barrington, Rhode Island, Gray began writing monologues in the 1970s, chronicling his childhood in Sex and Death to the Age 14, his youth in Booze, Cars and College Girls and his early struggles an actor in A Personal History of the American Theater. During that time, he joined with Willem Dafoe and Jill Clayburgh to found the experimental Wooster Theater Group in New York, where he honed his monologue skills.

His acting career, beyond his performances as himself, included the 1989 Broadway revival of Our Town, in which he played the stage manager, and the 2000 revival of Gore Vidal’s political drama The Best Man. His 38 film roles included appearances in Beaches with Bette Midler, The Paper with Michael Keaton and King of the Hill, Steven Soderbergh’s Depression-era drama in which he played a drunken suicide.

Gray’s mother, who had suffered nervous breakdowns, committed suicide in 1967 when she was 52. He often spoke of his belief he would take the same path.

“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,” he wrote in the semiautobiographical novel Impossible Vacation. “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.”

His depression escalated in recent years, exacerbated by a major car crash in 2001 during a vacation in Ireland. The accident also left him in physical pain.

He was hospitalized for depression, and in October 2002, he tried to jump from a bridge near his Long Island home. That suicide attempt caused the cancellation of his new work Black Spot. According to reports, he had tried to commit suicide on board the ferry in September 2003, but a friend talked him down. The day before he disappeared for good, security guards escorted him off the boat when he refused to disembark.

Gray is survived by his wife, three children and two brothers.

In 1997, while discussing his potential suicide, Gray suggested the epitaph for his tombstone: “An American Original: Troubled, Inner-Directed and Cannot Type.”

Now, unfortunately, it can be carved.

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