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A Homage to Spalding Gray

Originally Posted: May 24, 2004

Debbie Tuma

The life of Sag Harbor author Spalding Gray was celebrated with rock bands and break-dancing on May 15, as about 500 friends, neighbors and family members attended a memorial service for him at the Old Whaler's Church in Sag Harbor. About 15 people paid tribute to him at the service, including actor Roy Scheider, his two brothers, Channing Gray and Rockwell Gray, his wife, Kathie Russo, their daughter, Marissa, and their sons, who played music and danced. Also in attendence were Christie Brinkley and her husband Peter Cook, who were on the board of the STAR Foundation (Standing For Truth About Radiation) with Spalding Gray, as they all fought to shut down the Millstone Nusclear Reactor in Connecticut. Alexa Ray Joel, Brinkley's daughter with Billy Joel, was also present, as was Sag Harbor artist Carolyn Beegan, Joel's former girlfriend who was with Spalding and other friends in Ireland when he had his disabling car accident.

Roy Scheider talked about how he and Spalding were in a local men's group, and how Gray was suffering physical and emotional pain from this accident. "I hated to see him like that, and he couldn't understand why this happened to him," he said. But Gray's brother Channing, remembered Gray's earlier and happier days, when he was vital and robust, riding his bike and sailing his boat all around Sag Harbor. "He was a real outdoors kind of guy, and he was so witty that my wife and I couldn't wait to see his next monologues."

Gray's son Forrest, 12, played drums in his band, which honored Gray with some favorite songs, including some by the Beatles. His other son Theo, 6, break-danced on stage with his friend, to a big standing ovation from the crowd. Gray is buried in Oakland Cemetary, not far from the house he once lived in on Suffolk Street, which he loved and wrote about in his books.

One of the popular events held each May is the "Environment Benefit," for the Group For the South Fork in Bridgehampton. This non-profit group, which has been saving the open space and farmland here since the 1970's, held their annual fundraiser once again at the Elaine Benson Gallery in Bridgehampton, where they have also held it in past years.

"But we haven't held this benefit here in recent years, after the death of Elaine Benson," said Bob DeLuca, President of the Group For the South Fork. "She was great to us, and the rest of the community, and we miss her dearly." Benson had operated this gallery for over 30 years, and was instrumental in developing the art community in the Hamptons.

The Group's Vice-President, Kevin McDonald, was also on hand, as was John White and Mike Bottini, who has led so many nature hikes for the Group that he has just come out with his new book, Trails of the South Fork.

"For people who enjoy hiking in nature, or kayaking in our local waters, this book is an excellent guide to seeing the behind the scenes areas of the Hamptons," said Bottini. The Group helped sponsor this book, and also sells it in their office. Bottini urged people to come on more hikes and get familiar with the trails, so they can better appreciate all the land this organization is working to save.

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