I'm not a person who is normally unduly upset by the deaths of celebrities; after all, I don't know them. But the suicide of Spalding Gray in 2004 moved me tremendously. I had seen Gray in live performance, and the nature of his work--autobiographical monologues--gave his admirers the impression that they did know him.
I first discovered Gray when I saw the film of his monologue Swimming to Cambodia. I remember the day very clearly, as I had a job interview earlier (I didn't get it). I remember walking back to Penn Station from the theater (the now defunct Cinema Studio), reveling in what I just saw. What a great talent.
Over the next ten-plus years I saw Gray whenever he had a new monologue. There was Monster in a Box, about his attempts to write a book about a man who couldn't take a vacation; Gray's Anatomy, which detailed his adventures with trying to cope with a debilitating eye disease; It's a Slippery Slope, one of his most honestly naked monologues, about the end of his long relationship with one woman and having a child with another; and Morning, Noon & Night, about his new family. It was that monologue, which expressed his unexpected joy at fatherhood late in life, that most haunted me surrounding Gray's disappearance (it appears he jumped to his death off the Staten Island Ferry; his body was not discovered for a few months).
I therefore very much wanted to see the Steven Soderbergh film, And Everything Is Going Fine, which stitches together a portrait of Gray using clips from his filmed monologues and a variety of interviews. It covers his life from his childhood in Rhode Island, to his adventures as a young actor in New York and his success as a monologist and film actor. Throughout it all we can feel the heavy effect on his life of his mother's suicide, particularly the moment when she asked him, "How should I do it, dear?"
Gray said that he felt like Woody Allen trapped in a WASP body. To be sure, he presented a Yankee persona, with his New England accent and his penchant for wearing plaid flannel shirts. He typically wore those during his performances, in which he would sit on stage in front of a simple wooden table, on which sat only a glass of water and a spiral notebook. He would then proceed to spin the most marvelous tales. Gray was a raconteur of the first order, and instantly created a bond with the audience, as we got the sense that he was talking only to us, even if we were in an audience full of people.
Soderbergh's film is Gray unadorned. The story is chronological, though the clips are not, judged by the amount of gray in his hair. Included is a clip of him talking with his father, who said he thought he was nuts for attempting a career in the theater, and a very poignant ending, after Gray suffered the devastating car accident in Ireland that set him on his final downward spiral.
Gray says during one of the interviews that he preferred telling the story of his life rather than the actual living of it, which seems to me something of a curse, even if his audience was the benefit. How sad it is that the monologue came to such a sorrowful end.