Spalding Gray's Family Remembers A Man Who Was 'Never Boring'

Jan 10, 2014
Originally published on January 10, 2014 12:45 pm

It's been 10 years since the writer and monologist Spalding Gray went missing from his home in New York. Two months later, his body was found in the East River in an apparent suicide.

The day he disappeared, his wife, Kathleen Russo, was leaving for work when Gray told her, "OK, goodbye, Honey."

"And I go, 'You never call me Honey!' " Kathleen tells her daughter and Gray's stepdaughter, Marissa Maier, on a visit to StoryCorps. "And he goes, 'Well, maybe I'll start!' So I left for work that day being hopeful that there was a future for us, that he was really going to try to get better."

After Gray went missing, people who thought they had seen him would send the family photos. "Did you hold out any hope that one of these people would be him?" Marissa asks her mother.

"At first I did, but he would never be that cruel to, like, disappear into the world and let us think that he was dead and start a new life somewhere else," Kathleen says.

"He taught me how to think, how to see the world," Marissa says. "And I was reading one of Spalding's books and he wrote, 'I know Marissa will survive and thrive for her whole life.' And that's such a gift, to have a parent write down how they feel about you."

"He opened up my world, too," Kathleen says. "It was never boring with Spalding. ... He was such a great part of our lives. I wish he was still here, but we were lucky that we had him for the short time that we did."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Yasmina Guerda with Katie Simon.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It's Friday, which means we hear from StoryCorps. Today, memories of the writer and monologist Spalding Gray. Gray made a career talking about his life, delivering his monologues while seated at a desk with a glass of water. Here's an excerpt from "Slippery Slope," about learning to ski.

SPALDING GRAY: I find I'm only going left. I'm going left into the bushes, coming out the other side with branches in my mouth. And it's left and crash and left and crash and then it happens, it's ineffable. I can't tell you how it happens. I suddenly turned right and then left, right, left, boom, down. But I was up again. Left, right, left.

People would ski by me real fast. I'd crash. People would ski by me and fall. I'd crash. I was in such empathy. Or I'd be skiing and thinking, you're doing it. You're skiing. Crash. It was so beautiful. It was like Zen, but a little, not as subtle, you know.

GREENE: Ten years ago today, Spalding Gray went missing. He had been battling depression. After two months his body was found, an apparent suicide. Gray's widow, Kathleen Russo, and stepdaughter Marissa Maier came to StoryCorps to remember the day he disappeared.

KATHLEEN RUSSO: I was leaving for work. He walked me downstairs and he goes, okay, goodbye, honey. And I go, you never call me honey, and he goes, well, maybe I'll start. So I left for work that day being hopeful that there was a future for us, that he was really going to try to get better. Before he went out that night, was there anything you wanted to say to him?

MARISSA MAIER: No, because I didn't think it was the end.

RUSSO: Right.

MAIER: We went out to dinner and when we were home, he started pacing back and forth, which he usually did.

RUSSO: Which was normal for him then.

MAIER: And he looked really agitated and then he told me that he had to go see a friend.

RUSSO: I remember I came home and I asked where he was and you said he went out with his friend Larry. And I called Larry and Larry said, he never called me. And then he was missing for two months.

MAIER: I remember that people would send us photos.

RUSSO: Right. Spalding sightings.

MAIER: And we would all sit around the computer and look at these photos to see if it was him. Did you hold out any hope that one of these people would be him?

RUSSO: At first I did, but he would never be that cruel to, like, disappear into the world and let us think that he was dead and start a new life somewhere else. What do you think you got the most out of your relationship with Spalding?

MAIER: How he taught me how to think, how to see the world. And I was reading one of Spalding's books and he wrote, I know Marissa will survive and thrive for her whole life. And that's such a gift, to have a parent write down how they feel about you. What are you most grateful for?

RUSSO: Oh, he opened up my world too. I mean, I was a single mom with you. You were three and just seeing the world through his eyes. It was never boring with Spalding.

MAIER: I can't believe it's been 10 years.

RUSSO: He was such a great part of our lives. I wish he was still here, but we were lucky that we had him for the short time that we did. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.