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Stories Left To Tell

Originally Posted: July 19, 2007

R. B. Stuart

Spalding Gray, Sag Harbor writer, actor and performer, took his life in January of 2004 after a three year battle with depression caused by a head injury sustained in a car accident. His last monologue "Life Interrupted," was in development at Performance Space 122 in 2003, and was published in 2005 by Crown Publishing. He would have been 66 last month. In his honor, Mayor Bloomberg proclaimed June 5th his birthday, Spalding Gray Day in New York City.

Gray, the ultimate entertainer and wordsmith, created a series of eighteen monologues that have been performed throughout the United States, Europe, and Australia including: "Monster in a Box," "Gray's Anatomy," "It's a Slippery Slope," and the Obie Award-winning, "Swimming to Cambodia," which was adapted to film and directed by, Jonathan Demme.

Four months after Gray's death, Theatre Communications Group republished "Swimming to Cambodia". They held a reading for the book's release at the Union Square Barnes & Noble in Manhattan where Roger Rosenblatt, Reno, Kate Valk, Eric Bogosian and Bob Holman read excerpts.

Kathie Russo, Gray's wife of 14 years explained, "It was a "light-bulb moment" for me. As I sat there I listened to all these voices read Spalding's work receiving an enthusiastic response from the audience. That night made me realize more than ever that Spalding was a brilliant writer. His words, not his own performance, were now taking center stage." And, "Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell" was born. The show highlighted five voices of Gray: the "Journal Reader," the "Adventurer," the "Lover," the "Family Man," and the "Career person." The rotating guest actor always played the "Career" role.

Russo, in 1995, was the executive producer on the Steven Soderbergh film, "Gray's Anatomy." And in 1996, co-founded Washington Square Arts, a talent management company based in NYC, representing clients from Eric Bogosian to David Sedaris. With her theatre involvement, she and the Naked Angels brought a production of, "Spalding Gray: Stories Left To Tell," to off-Broadway in March at the Minetta Lane theatre where it had a three month run. It opened with Fisher Stevens to rave reviews, and in April featured rotating guest actors, Bruce Vilanch, and Whoopi Goldberg to name a few.

Even without Gray by her side, "It was a happy time. My family and kids were there. We were celebrating him and the event." Russo feels Gray trusted her to do the right thing with his work after he died. "I think in some weird way he knew I'd do this."

With such success of the stage version, Russo will be collaborating with Showtime, and his former co-star from the film "Clara's Heart," Whoopi Goldberg in a television production.

Gray, left behind three children, Marissa, Forrest, and Theo, and a wealth of work from stage to screen. As an actor, Gray performed on Broadway in Gore Vidal's "The Best Man," Thorton Wilder's "Our Town," and Sam Shepard's "Tooth of Crime." His film credits: "Kate and Leopold," "The Killing Fields," "Beaches," and "The Paper" are just snippets of his performance history.

Russo, a young mother, met Gray in 1990 while he was doing a weekend performance of "Monster in a Box" in Rochester. She remembers there was an instant sense of familiarity when they met. "It's like nothing I've experienced with another man. Like I knew him. I couldn't put my finger on it, but it felt very comfortable." Russo said that Gray's directness is what attracted her, "Although it's funny, when he was on the stage he had a lot to say…but in person, he was a man of few words. And when he did speak it was profound and poignant."

Kathie Russo and son Forrest Spalding.

In 1990 Russo, a Communication Arts and Photo Illustration major, was offered a job at a SoHo company, so she and her daughter (from her first marriage) relocated to Manhattan from Rochester. By 1994 she and Gray moved in together and had two boys. Gray, 20 years her senior, opened up her world to a whole bookshelf of books and classical music. "In turn I introduced him to the more youthful, up and coming music and theatre groups," she informed.

They moved to Sag Harbor in 1996 where Russso says the pace slowed them down. "We were focusing on raising our kids. That was definitely both our priorities. And finally I was able to take the kids to school and pick them up." They were pleasantly surprised how many artists were in the Hamptons. "Spalding was very creative here. It was the time that he began the monologue, "Morning, Noon and Night" which would be his last work." It was published by Ferrar, Strauss & Giroux and opened in 1999 at Lincoln Center for a three month run.

They had always discussed marriage, but after his car accident in 2001 they wanted to cement their relationship, so in 2003 they wed. "After the accident I went into managing his home care. And saw him not getting better. Watching someone's demise in front of you and not being able to help is devastating," she admitted.

When Gray was ill the home became a stressful environment. "Now it's somewhat normal, as I've tried to provide the kids with a stable home life to grow up in. But, this experience has scarred them for life," she stressed.

What she misses most is the companionship. "He was always game for everything I wanted to do. I taught him how to ski and took him on his first camping trip. I'm very outdoorsy, so I brought a lot of sports and activities which was new for him."

If Russo knew they'd only have 14 years together, she still would have taken the gamble on love. "I'm really glad I had that kind of experience and relationship. Spalding was very passionate. And with Spalding there was always some kind of drama…it was very exciting being with him. I had my one great love," she confessed.

Russo's mission for her kids and her beloved is to make sure the literary world remembers his name. "That's what I set out to do with "Stories Left To Tell." And we've succeeded…that's my goal."

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