Why me?

Spalding Gray in Swimming in Cambodia, 1987
Photo: Everett Collection Inc / Alamy

Famous for the autobiographical monologues he performed on stage, American actor and writer Spalding Gray turned his life into riveting art, his unique shows, such as the acclaimed Swimming to Cambodia, providing a compelling insight into his personal experiences. In 2001, while celebrating his sixtieth birthday with friends in Ireland, a devastating car accident altered Gray’s life irrevocably. The vehicle they were traveling in was hit by a van at high speed, causing severe physical injuries, including a fractured skull and hip, and a traumatic brain injury that led to deep-seated psychological trauma. Prior to this, Gray had battled with depression, but the accident plunged him into an even darker mental state, marked by crippling anxiety and overwhelming despair. The following journal entry was written in hospital in Dublin, shortly after the crash. Despite his struggles, he showed profound resilience and continued to work. Sadly, Gray went missing in January of 2004; his body was found in New York’s East River two months later. It is believed that he jumped from the Staten Island Ferry.

The Diary Entry

July 5, 2001 

Just came back from my short walk on crutches and I am sweating wet from the humidity but I still prefer it to air-con, at least you feel the changes of weather. Kathie discovered a dent in my head and the doctor confirmed it this morning. This morning I woke up before 6:00 and then went back out by doing deep breathing and trying to flood my hip with positive energy but what is positive energy? If I try to fill my mind with good images from the past and think, say of that summer in MV when Theo was only two and me doing my catcher AQUA ACT of letting the wave sweep over me and letting him go to bob up above me. I feel also the sadness of the loss and how I NEVER EVER HAD IT. I was of the moment but never possessed it. I think what a sad thing it must be to die and how it all feels like a dream and I try to get back to this moment in the hospital but I can’t stand to look out my window at the other windows and only to see the top of a dead tree. Why me?

Further Reading

Spalding Gray began to keep a journal when he was twenty-five, continuing until just before his death, aged sixty-two. They are now held, along with his other papers, at the Harry Ransom Center in Texas.

In 2011, a selection of entries were published in The Journals of Spalding Grey, a book edited by Nell Casey which also features interviews with some of his family and friends. Grey’s journal is fascinating and unflinchingly honest, and though there are flashes of humour, it can be a tough read at times, increasingly so as he neared the end of his life and grappled with his mental health.

In 2011, the year the journals were published, the New York Times ran a piece in which the book’s editor, Nell Casey, interviewed Gray’s widow, Kathleen Russo. You can read it here.

Visit the official Spalding Gray website.

Journal entry reprinted with kind permission of Kathleen Russo/Estate of Spalding Gray.

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