March 16, 2004

Spalding Gray

So they found Spalding Grayís body a week or so ago. In the East River. I canít speak to the suicidal impulse that overwhelms at an unexpected moment (heíd talked to his kids before boarding the Staten Island Ferry, telling them heíd see them in a few hours). I canít speak to what the man was feeling right then. I canít speak to anything really, except that it makes me sad.

I met him once. I didnít get to know him, at least not directly. It was at a wedding. He and his girlfriend (they later married) were close friends of the bride and groom. The bride was my boss at the time, a talented and outgoing film editor. I knew Spalding Grey from her descriptions of dinner parties and outings. He sounded sardonic and wry and fun in a dark New Yorker sort of way. I spoke to him briefly at the reception. I had nothing much to say and he had less. I respected that, partly because I had a sense of who he was.

I saw him perform once in person (I think it was Grayís Anatomy) and once on film (Swimming to Cambodia). I found his delivery oddly distant, a cognitive dissonance with the deeply personal, sometimes difficult subject matter. He was nevertheless a magnetic presence for all that. He wove a carpet of words, a tapestry, his voice modulation shaping the threads of the story as it built to a finale.

He had a small part in a TV movie I worked on. He was terrible, fumbling his line reading, his body language stiff and awkward. He couldnít make it real. Itís odd because he was an extremely good performer when he played himself. He was good at dredging up his discomfort and neurosis, he was extremely witty, he performed well sitting at a table with his glass of water and his mike, shaping the stories of his pain for our pleasure.

No more stories. Just silence in the winter-cold water. Fare thee well, Spalding. The world will miss you.

Posted by Tamar at March 16, 2004 11:12 PM

I think that distinction (playing himself vs. others) is a little unfaiir; Gray's performances in The Killing Fields, Our Town, and (the one *I* saw live) Gore Vidal's The Best Man testify otherwise.

We all have our Gray stories, it seems: mine was more random, meeting him on a San Francisco street corner and not saying more then "hello" for fear of being uncool, a harasser. And feeling a sense of vigil between his official AWOL and the discovery of his body, as if he were a relation and not simply a sad, sad man.

Posted by: Chris at March 16, 2004 11:35 PM