"I say that I can’t make anything up. I think of myself as a collage artist. I’m cutting and pasting memories of my life," said Spalding Gray, "I have to live a life in order to tell a life. I would prefer to tell it because telling you’re always in control, you’re like God." And as one of America’s most brilliant writers and performers, Gray’s life was an open book of stories, weaving from the depths of despair to sheer brilliance with an honesty and openness rarely seen. As a theater/film actor and monologist, Gray’s work was an ongoing and ever-evolving narrative that spanned his life’s journey from his Christian Scientist childhood in Rhode Island to the harrowing pain of his last days.
For me, discovering Gray as an adult was like discovering David Sedaris as a teenager—his candidness so refreshing, his hyperbole so believable that there was never a dull moment. He made you feel like you were understood and that someone knew how you felt and although, no, I have never been a middle-aged man, we all know what it feels like to be haunted by the past and crippled by fear of the future. Nell Casey, editor of The Journals of Spalding Gray has noted, "As much as Gray wrung his hands, calculating and recalculating what he’d sacrificed for fame, he recognized that this was an art form wholly suited to his talents and that he needed the audience. He was a more fulfilled person with this constant and consoling witness to his life."
And had be not died all too soon on January 10th, 2004—presumably by throwing himself off the Staten Island Ferry—today would be Gray’s 72nd birthday. So in his honor, let’s take a look back on some of our favorite moments of his, from bits of his extended monologues to Steven Soderbergh’s documentary And Everything is Going Fine, to his 1989 performance in Our Town. Enjoy.
Our Town Part 1
Spalding Gray in Drunks
Spalding Gray with Bobby Rivers on VH1
What’s a Day Without Cocktail Hour?
Swimming to Cambodia (On Cold War Solider)
Khmer Rouge History Primer
True Stories, Texas Joke
Spalding Gray Explains Modern Life
A Life in Progress
Our Town Opening 1989