Volume 73, Number 45 | March 10 -16, 2004

Spalding Gray’s body is found in river

The body of a man clad in black corduroy trousers that was washed up on the Williamsburg side of the East River on Sunday afternoon, March 7 was identified on Monday as Spalding Gray, the performance artist missing from his home near Canal St. for two months.

Police were working on the assumption that Gray, 62, who had a history of depression and who made his emotional fragility the subject of many of his highly acclaimed monologues, committed suicide by jumping off the Staten Island ferry shortly after he was last seen on Jan. 10 by his wife, Kathleen Russo, and their two children at their home on Wooster St.

Gray, who suffered a fractured skull and a crushed hip in June 2001 in an auto accident during a vacation in Ireland, had previously been prevented from suicide jumps into the waters near the family home in the Hamptons. He threatened more recently to jump off the Staten Island ferry and one of his final phone calls was made from a payphone near the ferry terminal.

Gray had just returned from a movie with his wife and two young sons when he told his wife he was going to meet a friend. She notified police a day later that he was missing. The family’s anxiety increased as days of near-zero weather went by. There were reports however, that Gray had been seen at various locations, including the ferry.

Gray’s mother committed suicide in 1967 at the age of 52. That was the year Gray moved to New York. Three years later he joined Richard Schechner’s experimental Performance Group. In 1975 he helped found the Wooster Group with director Elizabeth LeCompt, and four years later began writing and performing a series of monologues.

Wickham Boyle, a Villager columnist and arts critic, who was an actor with La Mama Experimental Theater in the 1970s, recalled her admiration for Gay’s talent. “We all saw each other’s shows and when his monologue, ‘Swimming to Cambodia,’ went to Lincoln Center, it took experimental theater to a new level and we felt that mainstream theater was open to all of us,” she said.

In addition to his wife and their sons, Gray is survived by a stepdaughter, Marissa, and two brothers, Rockwell, an English professor at Washington University in St. Louis, and Channing, a music critic for the Providence Journal. His former wife, Renee Shafransky, also survives

A friend of the family said Gay’s body would be cremated.


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