‘Spalding Gray,’ the Color? It’s a Long Story ~ NYT

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I took that water glass after his performance years ago in Santa Fe and have it on my kitchen shelf.. rÕbert

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This is a story about a man, a dog, a color and the name they share. Hang on. We’ll get there.

The Man

Spalding Gray did not originate monologue as theater, but he perfected and popularized the form; in one-man performances like “Swimming to Cambodia” and “The Terrors of Pleasure,” his onstage props were a desk, a glass of water and a mic. With those he dazzled. “He took the anarchy and illogic of life and molded it into something we could grab a hold of,” said the actor and fellow monologuist Eric Bogosian. Gray received widespread recognition when the movie version of “Swimming to Cambodia” was directed by Jonathan Demme and released in 1987. This year marks 30 years of his fame. Particularly during the 1980s, Gray was the embodiment of wit and self-awareness to a certain breed of urban male. As one friend put it, “I took a lot of first dates to his shows, figuring that if she loved Spalding Gray, she would love me.”

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Gray’s former Sag Harbor cottage, repainted in his honor. Credit, Cole Wilson for The New York Times

Sadly, Gray had a history of family depression — his mother killed herself at 52 — and he ruminated frequently about suicide in his work. His depression deepened following a ghastly, disfiguring car accident in 2001 in Ireland, and then there was the horror of the World Trade Center attack. “Real life has always let me down,” he once said. “That’s why I do the monologues. I have always said I would rather tell a life than live a life. But I have to live a life in order to tell one.“ He finished living that life in January 2004, at age 62, when he vanished; in March his body was pulled out of the East River. It is believed he jumped off the side of the Staten Island Ferry.

The Dog

John Williams is an architect from Cleveland, and has always been an ardent fan of Spalding Gray’s performances. “I was just struck by everything: his writing, his delivery, his presence,” he said in an interview.

Mr. Williams also happened to be a fan of Weimaraners, a dog breed which, let’s face it, looks like it was designed by an architect — all angles and sleekness and graceful lines. When he and his then-wife Marcie Goodman, the executive director of the Cleveland International Film Festival, got their first Weimaraner in the early ’90s, they took one look at that magnificent gray coat and named him Spalding Gray. “He was our fur child,” Mr. Williams said. “He had the best nature and soul I’ve ever experienced in a dog.”

 The canine Spalding Gray was also a local celebrity even in the years before Instagram. Ms. Goodman always worked Spalding and eventually his brother, Jackson (Brown — do you sense a theme?) into her film festival guides. Mr. Williams listed Spalding (and eventually his other Weimaraners) as staff members on his company website. Because the dogs hung out in Mr. Williams’s office all day, a number of clients would point to them and say, ‘Can you paint my wall that color?” “It was a surprisingly frequent request,” Mr. Williams adds.

~~~  CONTINUE  ~~~

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