- The Washington Times - Monday, March 8, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — The body of actor and writer Spalding Gray was pulled from the East River during the weekend, two months after he walked out of his Manhattan apartment and disappeared. He was 62.

Mr. Gray, who laid bare his life and mingled performance art with comedy in acclaimed monologues such as “Swimming to Cambodia” and “It’s a Slippery Slope,” was identified yesterday through dental records and X-rays.

The cause of death was under investigation, said Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner. But Mr. Gray was known to have been deeply troubled and had attempted suicide before.

His family told police he was last seen Jan. 10. Throughout his disappearance, his wife, Kathleen Russo, had held out scant hope that he might be alive.

“Everyone that looks like him from behind, I go up and check to make sure it’s not him,” Mrs. Russo said in a phone interview with the Associated Press about a week ago. “If someone calls and hangs up, I always do star-69. You’re always thinking, ‘maybe.’”

Mr. Gray’s live performances generally featured only a desk and a glass of water as props. Usually wearing his trademark plaid flannel shirt, the performer would never move from the desk as he read in a soft, New England-flecked accent.

In more than a dozen monologues starting in 1979, Mr. Gray told audiences about his childhood, “Sex and Death to the Age 14”; his adventures as a young man, “Booze, Cars and College Girls”; and his struggles as an actor, “A Personal History of the American Theater.” Many were published in book form and several were made into films.

Mr. Gray’s greatest success was the Obie-winning monologue “Swimming to Cambodia,” which recounted in part his movie role opposite Sam Waterston in “The Killing Fields.” The monologue, developed over two years of performance, became a film directed by Roland Joffe.

Mr. Gray also had an active career in Hollywood, with 38 film appearances, including in David Byrne’s “True Stories,” “Beaches” and “The Paper.” In the 1993 Steven Soderbergh film “King of the Hill,” Mr. Gray played an eccentric bachelor who commits suicide.

But Mr. Gray’s life in recent years was marred by depression.

A head-on car crash during a 2001 vacation in Ireland left him disheartened and in poor health, and he tried jumping from a bridge near his Long Island home in October 2002.

He was twice hospitalized for depression after the crash, and his suicide attempt canceled the run of a new solo piece, “Black Spot.”

Mr. Gray was born June 5, 1941, one of three sons of a couple in Barrington, R.I. His mother suffered two nervous breakdowns, committing suicide in 1967 after the second one.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Gray is survived by three children and a brother, Rockwell, an English professor in St. Louis.

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