Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The Death Of A Minor Star

About a week after the event, I stumbled across a news story on the Internet about the discovery of Spalding Gray’s body in the river. He’d apparently jumped from the Staten Island Ferry. He’d been missing for 58 days. I felt bad about him being dead, but he wasn’t a personal friend of mine and I think I almost felt worse that I apparently live in a world that takes so little note of his passing. I'm a news junkie and the fact that I didn't hear about it for a week means it wasn't The Top News Story. Maybe if I lived in New York, I'd have heard more.

Spalding Gray was a sometimes-movie-actor and a very talented sort of “talking man” who put on one-man performances—he could just stand on stage and tell a story live and mesmerize his audience. Though I didn’t see him often, I thought he was amazing. He did what some would call confessional autobiographical monologues. “Swimming To Cambodia” was one. Some of them were taped and shown on cable TV, which is the only way that I ever saw him. But live or on tape, he was clearly a major talent, even while never being a Big Star. They don’t know yet or haven’t said, but it’s probable he took his own life. He was talented and likeable (well, it seems so from here), but I guess it wasn’t enough. He’d had health problems and had attempted suicide more than once, so no one who knew him could be very surprised.

In an interview once he was asked, “If someone who didn't know you asked you what you do, how would you answer?”

Spalding answered: “Well, the best definition I ever heard was way back when I was performing Sex and Death at Age Fourteen. There was a little girl, 10 years old, hanging around and I asked her, "What are you doing here?" She said her dad told her to come and see the talking man. This, in our culture, is rare — the fact that I'm reflective is an odd thing.”

That’s the sad truth.

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