When monologist-actor-writer-philosopher Spalding Gray departed this planet in 2004, he left behind timeless works like Swimming to Cambodia, Monster in a Box and many memorable film roles. He also left behind two sensitive and talented sons. Benito Vila lived near the Grays in Sag Harbor and coached Spalding’s youngest son, Theo, in baseball. Seventeen years after Spalding’s suicide, Benito spoke with Spalding’s two sons, Theo and Forrest, now a filmmaker and composer, respectively, and his wife, Kathie Russo, a podcast producer and director of the podcast program at Stony Brook University.
S-P-A-L-D-I-N-G. The letters on the baseball glove spelled out the last name of an old-time player, Albert (A.G.) Spalding, the best pitcher of his era. I hadn’t seen a Spalding glove in years. I tried it on. It was a good fit but I didn’t need a new glove, especially right then in the middle of winter. And as a high school coach, all I ever used was a catcher’s mitt. I borrowed a kid’s glove if I needed to make a point in the outfield or infield. I walked away, but I was drawn back later on and found myself buying that Spalding glove, wondering why.
That spring, I found myself scolding Theo, a sophomore who was trying to make the varsity team, for taking the field in a scrimmage with a glove that had a broken string. It seemed to me that it was more important for him to be on the varsity than it was to be ready to help the team win. I took him out of the game. Later, one of his classmates, Johnny, said, “Theo’s never had a glove.” And Jack added, “He’s always borrowed them.” The kids know I re-lace gloves and Theo gave me the busted-up one he had to work on. I didn’t have it ready for the next practice so I gave Theo my new glove and that’s when I first saw S-P-A-L-D-I-N-G on the back of the left hand of Theo Gray.
Theo’s father, writer and performer Spalding Gray, committed suicide in January of 2004, jumping into New York Harbor and leaving behind two young boys, Theo and Forrest, a wife, Kathie Russo, and a stepdaughter, Marissa Maier. I met Spalding a year or two before his disappearance. He was one of the other dads in the elementary school yard, and every day at 3 p.m. we’d be there when our kids came out. He had a disrupted gait, his right leg coming up stiffly and setting down the right foot as if the leg didn’t know where the foot was going. In our snippets of conversation, he came to tell me he’d had an accident while on vacation in Ireland, and that he thought this drop-step of his would disappear. What had him upset was not the accident but that he’d sold his house in the village. I heard this all more than once.
The village of Sag Harbor, New York, is a small one, and soon I discovered our families lived on the same street. I also learned that the accident left Spalding obsessed with not only the sale of his house but also with suicide. He was no longer on the schoolyard scene when Spalding found his way into the local paper, The Sag Harbor Express, for having the police stop him from jumping off the bridge to North Haven. Last month, the PKM editors asked me if I’d ever met Spalding. They’d come across a piece Dr. Oliver Sacks had written for The New Yorker, one where the neurologist describes Spalding’s injury and the effect it had on he and his family.
Pandemic life being what it is, I’d seen Theo and Kathie at a distance recently, walking their new puppy along a bay beach. We reconnected, at first by text and then in person, with Kathie connecting me to Forrest and Theo, reminding me I’d asked him about the article when it came out in 2015, his senior year. In his sophomore baseball season, Theo and I were standing alongside the backstop getting ready for another scrimmage when I asked him if he liked the Spalding glove. Theo’s face lit up. He said, “It’s great and it even has my dad’s name on it.” To this day, Theo’s never had a glove of his own. I carried that glove to practice for him for three years and I tried to give it to him when he graduated. I still have the Spalding glove in my coaching bag.
To describe Spalding Gray’s artistry is to describe the work of a master. He was cast in The Killing Fields, True Stories, Stars and Bars and King of The Hill, films that question as much as entertain. [Editor: Those films among others. Spalding was a movie-stealer in 1995’s Drunks, in a scene where his character attends an AA meeting and goes on about beer in way that can make even longtime sober people thirsty.]
He was heard on television as the voice of Buckminster Fuller and seen in a recurring role on The Nanny. His own storytelling, his talent for connecting random personal experiences to the cultural chaos of the moment, placed him in the national spotlight when two of his novelesque monologues, Swimming to Cambodia and Monster in a Box, took form as popular, impossible-to-ignore, one-man films [in 1987 and 1992]. Afterwards, he kept writing intense, self-reflective pieces until the 2001 car accident left him physically impaired and chronically depressed.
In taking a look at Spalding’s legacy, I interviewed Theo, now a New York University graduate school filmmaker; Forrest, a composer creating music for films, most notably Carter Burwell’s Space Force; and Kathie, the director of the podcast program at Stony Brook University, who’s producing a soon-to-be-released podcast for Hillary Clinton, and another for Alec Baldwin. From them I learned of Spalding’s gift for the theatrical, his insistence on honesty and his uncanny knack for being heard.
Sitting down with Theo on Father’s Day:
PKM: What’s that on your arm?
Theo Gray: It’s a tattoo. It’s part of a poem my dad wrote for me right after I was born. It says, “Hey boy, hey sleeping boy. Wipe me clean of the ugly. Hey boy. Hey new boy, wipe me clean.” It’s a longer poem. I couldn’t get the whole thing on my arm.
PKM: When you’re asked, “What does your father do,” what do you say? How do you describe his occupation?
Theo Gray: I say, “He’s a monologist.”
PKM: That’s not like saying, “My dad’s a dog catcher.”
Theo Gray: Exactly. I get, “So, what does he do?” I try to explain, from the most technical standpoint, that my dad collects the stories of his life and performs them in front of people on stage at a desk. That’s the simplest way of putting it.
PKM: How do you describe what your dad does?
Theo Gray: He tells the story of his life and makes it theatrical. The stories he’s telling are true. They’re moments from throughout his childhood, odd moments throughout his life, moments with my mom. He mixes his own personal voice with how he interpreted those experiences, and his theatrical element has this alternative narrative to it. When it’s happening, his body movement changes, and so does his voice and his tempo. He gets speaking really fast in an intense moment that’s happening, then, he takes a breath, and, then, everything’s really smooth. There’s that “performative” element to how he tells his story, like how a film has a pace to it. It’s storytelling that has a physical element to it, if that makes sense.
PKM: Did you ever read the Oliver Sacks piece on your dad?
Theo Gray: I’ve read it, but it’s been a while since I read it. I think my brother recently read it again, like a year ago. It shines the light on what he went through, post-accident. Being a young kid, not knowing, when the car accident happened and then the brain damage, not knowing and trying to figure out exactly what that meant. It helped having Oliver Sacks contextualize it.
PKM: How so?
Theo Gray: I was young when he passed away, and it was hard to understand why my dad was depressed and even why he killed himself. There’s a whole complicated issue with suicide, in general. I think that when someone suffers brain damage to that certain extent, you understand they are different person and you can justify certain actions.
PKM: Do you remember your dad before the accident?
Theo Gray: I have some early memories and a lot of them are really minimal, but I’m lucky. I’ve learned who my dad was through his writings and his work. Kids my age, who have lost their dads, dads who weren’t a monologist or an actor, don’t have so much video documentation. Most of my memories are post-accident, but I can look at the monologues of his performances and there’s a continuous relationship for me there. I’m growing with him by watching his videos and there are hundreds of hours of him. It’s interesting that I’ve formed a relationship through documentation. [Pause] Yeah, I think that’s also why I’m fascinated with filmmaking, too, because I can still have a relationship with him because he was documented, because he had a history of these monologues.
PKM: Every person, when they die, leaves a gift for their loved ones. What is the gift your dad left you?
Theo Gray: It’s his story. He has this one quote––I hope this is how it goes––it’s like, “One way to reincarnate your self is to tell stories or leave stories behind.” He definitely still lives on, because the gift he’s given me is his voice and his stories. It’s not just stories about one topic; it’s stories about his sexuality, his relationships with partners, the trauma in his life. I’ve been able to see full layers of his life and that’s a great gift.
PKM: Do you have a story that brings your dad back for you?
Theo Gray: There’s a particular thing he would do. He called it “The Monster”. He’d do yoga every morning and I would sneak up behind him sometimes.
PKM: How old were you?
Theo Gray: I was probably like four or five because this is before the accident. He would know I was behind him, but I wouldn’t know if he knew I was behind him. He’d be in yoga and then all of a sudden, he would come around and play being a monster and go, like, “Arrgh.” He’d grab and bite my ear or something; he’d really get into me. That’s such a fond memory for me because he had such a surprise element in doing that. It’s also very “performative”, too, in an earnest and natural way. That to me is lovely, special, him grabbing me and playing Monster with me while he was doing yoga in the morning.
PKM: [Laughs] He’s actually being a demon.
Theo Gray: Yes, exactly. I don’t even know if he was doing yoga. Maybe he just knew the whole time that he wanted to tackle me, or whatever.
PKM: What do you wish your dad had done differently?
Theo Gray: I’m sure that many people would look at my situation and say, “His suicide.” Yes, of course, it’d be awesome if he was still alive, and he didn’t kill himself, but at the same time, over the years I’ve understood why he’s done that, and the pain he was in. Plus, I’m sure he didn’t want me to see him in that light, because post-accident he was a very different person, emotionally, mentally and physically. [Long pause] Something I wish he could have done differently is stay home more, because he would go on tour a lot. As much as I can’t recall so many early memories with him, I feel, maybe, I would have had more if he were around more.
PKM: Which piece of his do you like the most?
Theo Gray: It’s the book I brought you: Morning, Noon and Night. I enjoy how he describes Sag Harbor, and how the book is structured, how it’s formed. He goes through a day in Sag Harbor with us, his family. I’m like maybe three months old when he’s writing this book. He goes back and forth through memories of his own life and each time comes back to Sag Harbor on a summer-like, early October day. And while he’s looking at these nostalgic ties to his old life, he’s also present, raising a family. It’s self-reflective while also being in the day. I’m only 23, yet I have those moments where, I could be biking, I just zone out for that second when a memory of when I was a child comes up. It’s a relatable book for a lot of people, especially people reading it when they’re older. It’s all about the present and the past; it’s your life leading up to that one day you have with your own family.
PKM: When you tell someone your dad’s name is Spalding Gray, what sort of look do you see on their face? What’s their reaction to that?
Theo Gray: That’s funny. They know him or they don’t. I’ve had professors who knew who he was. They tend to go like this [making an eyebrows up, really-wow face]. They’re surprised and engaged with finding out. That’s refreshing to see sometimes, but I usually don’t tell people he’s my dad.
PKM: Is there any reason for that?
Theo Gray: Yes. [Pause] There are several reasons, really. Being an artist, too, I like to have my own identity and my work is nothing like my dad’s. I’m afraid some people could say it is, because they see him that in it. I like to separate who I am from who my dad was. I usually try to keep that distance. I only say who my dad was when the context is actually there, only when someone is like, “Oh, Spalding Gray.” Then, I’m like, “Oh, that was my dad.”
PKM: How do you connect to Spalding now?
Theo Gray: One way is by biking. It’s as simple as that.
PKM: Did he like biking?
Theo Gray: He loved biking and would bike all around out here. I’m actually riding his bike now. That’s the one I pulled up to your house on. I find him in simple activities he’s done, things that he liked. There’s also him being a storyteller and me picking film and being a storyteller. Sometimes I don’t know that I’m connecting with him. I made my thesis piece for school, one that I filmed, and in it I played this character, a kid going to his deceased grandfather’s home, telling stories about the home’s association to his grandfather. While performing this film organically, because I didn’t write a script, I was creating this narrative and had these subconscious parallels in my film with my dad’s death. When I was editing it, I realized there was water throughout the whole piece. My dad passed away by drowning. Then I discovered this moment in the film where ash was falling inside the house, and it connected me to that day we spread my dad’s ashes in his old apartment in New York. That was an odd experience. I felt, I knew, I was connecting with him there, somehow.
PKM: In the world right now, there’s this push to get back to “normal”, and as a society we’re struggling with “normal”. Your dad struggled with getting to whatever normal was for him. Do you see that playing out in any way for you?
Theo Gray: Given what his situation was, realistically, he wasn’t going back to what he was “normally”. Once that car accident happened, and after what happened in the surgeries, there was no way of going back. Philosophically, it’s more of the idea that once you have changed, or there is not “the normal” anymore and there’s this new normal, you have to live with it or die. That’s particularly true to my dad’s situation. And that’s a hard thought for a lot of people especially when something happens so fast, like COVID or a car accident. You don’t have time to process that change. When “it” happens like that, it’s even harder to grasp that you can’t go back to your past.
PKM: Did your dad ever describe his career to you? Or what set him off?
Theo Gray: No, but kinda I know it. There are phases, all through it. He went to school for English and theater, I believe, and he wandered a little bit after. He lived in Mexico for two years and took photos. What really set off his “performative” career was working for the Wooster Group in New York; it’s like this art house, performance space. I think that’s where he found his voice. That’s where he really found his form of avant-garde storytelling. And when he was at the Wooster Group, it was really avant-garde. His monologues, although technically avant-garde, have a more cohesive, traditional stack to it, but it was the Wooster Group that sculpted him into this monologist and helped him in his acting.
PKM: Did you dad ever talk to you about who his influences were? Or which traditions he was a part of?
Theo Gray: That’s a better question for my mom or my brother. I was seven and Forrest was eleven when [Spalding] passed away. Forrest had more time with him, and my mom had to have had that conversation with him. I would love to know.
Talking on the phone with Forrest, a day or so later:
PKM: Who do you regard as your dad’s influences?
Forrest Gray: He had this T-shirt he used to wear, one he got in Ireland, one that listed all the great iconic Irish writers. I always thought that he had an affinity for those writers. Joyce, Yeats, Swift. But you’re asking more broadly, not just authors, right?
PKM: Yes. Did he crank up Chuck Berry? Did he say, “You got to listen to this” and put on The Rolling Stones. Did he turn you on to The Beatles?
Forrest Gray: He was huge Beatles fan and we listened to Sgt. Pepper religiously in our house. He was big Dylan fan. He liked Samuel Becket and Norman Mailer, he mentioned those two a lot, and he liked films, too. We didn’t have television in our house growing up, but we did watch a lot of films.
PKM: What kind of films?
Forrest Gray: I’m trying to think of the ones that he particularly loved. [Pause] The one that comes to mind is Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange.
PKM: You were nine years old watching Clockwork Orange!?
Forrest Gray: I don’t remember watching it when I was nine, but I did watch it when I was 15. I remember that being one of his particular favorites. I don’t think you’d call him a cinephile, per se, but I know he was a great lover of film. The thing I think of as inspiration for him was psychology. The Denial of Death, was a favorite of his. That’s by Ernest Becker. I have his copy and he’s got notes scribbled all throughout it. In fact, many of his books we have in our study have his notes, his scribbling. The Denial of Death was one that he was particularly drawn to. It plays into his style, too, because it’s a serious look at neuroses and it has a lot of Oedipal themes. Becker put his own study in a serious light and then my dad took that, turned it and put a more comedic twist on it [in It’s a Slippery Slope]. You can read The Denial of Death and see that it was a source, or a place of observation, for what my dad talks about later.
PKM: Did your dad have motifs or characters that would keep coming up when he was talking to you?
Forrest Gray: The elemental. My dad was very concerned with the elemental. That would mean talking about atoms, teaching me about atoms, and talking about why words are imbued with certain meaning, or why words are imbued with uncouthness, why you can’t use certain words in public settings. For him, it was all about asking, getting to the root of things, asking the elemental questions. It was his way. I think that’s how he thought one should talk to a child, not treat them as if they’re stupid, but try and build up an understanding with them.
PKM: Are there specific themes that come up for you in your dad’s work?
Forrest Gray: Yes. The fear of death and that’s why The Denial of Death is, to me, very salient.
PKM: Theo mentioned you read the Oliver Sacks piece recently. How did that come across?
Forrest Gray: I haven’t read it, unfortunately.
PKM: Excuse me?
Forrest Gray: I actually didn’t.
PKM: [Laughs] Theo gave you credit for it.
Forrest Gray: Oh, no. I wish I had. It’s one of those things I didn’t get around to reading for whatever reason. I never found an opportunity.
PKM: What was your dad like before the accident?
Forrest Gray: It’s an interesting thing. I remember him being very gregarious, and having a larger than life personality, very kooky, always in touch with an inner child. We’ve watched home videos and the way he is there is at odds with that. He’s a little more reserved, but that just might be because the camera was on him. My memory holds that he was goofy, but also introspective. Even though there was a goofiness, the child who becomes the life of the party because of his intellectual prowess, it also led to his being very introspective.
His monologues, although technically avant-garde, have a more cohesive, traditional stack to it, but it was the Wooster Group that sculpted him into this monologist and helped him in his acting.
PKM: What was he like after?
Forrest Gray: It’s hard to describe because the trauma was so localized in his brain. It didn’t affect his intellectual faculties, but it definitely affected his gregariousness. He was way more withdrawn.
PKM: How was that for you?
Forrest Gray: It was tough because the dialogues we’d had, that would come up organically, those seemed to end there. He was more psychological and emotional. There was less room to parent almost.
PKM: Was he still playful with his words?
Forrest Gray: Far less playful. Just less cheerful. I think he took on a way more morbid tone in his outlook.
PKM: What brings him alive for you now?
Forrest Gray: It’s nice that there’s sometimes the casual mention of him, a reference to his work like in a New York Times piece, or someone I know who’s taking a college course is asked to read one of his books. My girlfriend’s uncle is a huge fan of his, and was before she and I started dating. It’s a wonderful thing, his legacy. It’s interesting because it’s so multidisciplinary and multifaceted. You see him in The Nanny; you tune into HBO and find him doing Monster in A Box. Like I said, it’s multifaceted and it’s nice to see his work still being played.
PKM: What do you wish he’d done differently?
Forrest Gray: In what regard?
PKM: Theo said that he would have preferred that your dad had been around more, that all the sudden he would be gone on tour, and then he was really gone.
Forrest Gray: That’s interesting. I never really discussed that with him because my perspective is of his being there, often. I think it’s maybe because I had these early formative memories during a period, for all I know it was probably a year but it seems like five, when he was around more, right before Theo’s birth. It’s hard to answer your question. It’s hard because a lot of his issues came from his mother. He definitely tried to unpack a lot of the trauma he experienced as a child. He must have been in therapy since the age of 22 and I think he saw therapists for the majority of his life. Even now, each time I talk to my uncle, the oldest brother of the three boys, the eldest of the Grays, I’m learning that their mother really, really traumatized them. That was unfortunately built into his experience as he got older. If there were ways, like an alternative form of therapy that could have helped him cope with all that childhood trauma, that would have been something different I wish he had done, in a counterfactual, alternate universe. Otherwise, Theo and I have different experiences. That four-year difference in age is such a disjuncture in the type of parenting we experienced. I remember him being very present, even if he was gone. And when he was in the house, he was very engaged.
PKM: Which of his pieces do you like the most?
Forrest Gray: Recently, I read Morning, Noon and Night, so, right now, I’ll say Morning, Noon and Night. It’s such a quick read. I read it in a day or two. It’s cool for me because I’m featured in it, so obviously I’m partial, but there’s an interesting exploration of the elemental in it and I enjoy those dialogues a lot.
PKM: How do you connect to Spalding now?
Forrest Gray: I probably don’t enough. [Laughs] It’s a bit of an abstraction in a way. I connect by reading a lot. Sometimes it’s by finding a more obscure excerpt, on YouTube, of a piece he did in the ’80s. That’s always fun because I get to see a side of him, way before he was a parent, when he was developing his artistic abilities. That definitely connects me to a part of him he may have only told us about. Because of YouTube, all this footage resurfaces in the digital era and that definitely helps me reconnect.
PKM: Are there ways you’re closer to him now than when he was alive?
Forrest Gray: [Pause] I feel that his work is really honest, so if I feel that I’m doing something that’s dishonest, and that can happen a lot especially in my field where it’s very commercial, I do feel a judgmental gaze. It’s probably coming from my self but it was fostered by him. If that can be deemed a lasting presence, then that is something that was engendered at an early age. I do feel there’s a way to look to at art honestly like he did.
PKM: I met your dad a couple of times, but only after the accident. Our interaction was mostly your dad saying how much he missed his house [where he wrote Morning, Noon and Night] and how much he didn’t want to have sold the house.
Forrest Gray: That was an obsessive mantra at the time. A sign of that compulsion unfortunately.
PKM: One of the things that your dad struggled with then, and what we’re all struggling with now is wanting to get back to normal. How do you experience that? Is there a parallel for you?
Forrest Gray: If you boil down the national crisis, and our familial crisis, to one of norms, yes, it can feel like when norms are abandoned, everything else can slip away. It’s a reminder of the illusion of norms and these shared agreements we have, both as a society and as a family. With my dad, the norms were abandoned because of a neurological issue. You could make that same argument on the national level if you wanted to be a true cynic. Unfortunately, I can’t conclude an optimistic point if I compare the two.
PKM: How did that quest for normal affect you?
Forrest Gray: For me and my two other siblings [Theo and Marissa, Kathie’s daughter/Forrest’s step-sister], we’ve ended up leading fairly conventional lives considering that my dad was a childless bohemian artist, who didn’t settle down until the age of 52. Maybe a part of our own behavior, being in serious relationships, being focused on school, keeping more conventional trappings in our own lives, may be a reaction to wanting “normal” to some degree.
Forrest set off to meet his girlfriend and I called Kathie:
PKM: Let’s fill in a couple things Forrest and Theo left open. What were some of Spalding’s favorite films?
Kathie Russo: The first one that comes to mind is Giant, with Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean. A more contemporary one is Magnolia, and he loved The Hours. He also liked the documentary My Brother’s Keeper, about a murder in upstate New York.
PKM: And who were his heroes? And what sort of traditions did Spalding see himself being a part of?
Kathie Russo: His heroes? Hmmm. Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, the famous folk singer, was one. Spalding saw him as more storyteller than singer. And traditions? Mark Twain comes to mind, as a monologist. Spalding saw himself as bringing back storytelling, true storytelling, as a way of entertainment. He saw himself as the grandfather of monologues, re-inventing it in the late ‘70s, and taking it into the ‘80s and ‘90s.
PKM: That’s when we saw him take what was going on inside of him and connect it to what was going on around all of us.
Kathie Russo: Yes, he touched on universal things, but with most of his monologues it was some crisis in his life that was the impetus for writing the monologue. He goes on all these other journeys, always circling back to what the issue is. In Gray’s Anatomy, it was about a macular pucker [scar tissue] in his eye. He had to have an eye operation but instead of saying, “Yes, I’ll have the surgery”, he goes off to a psychic surgeon in the Philippines, he goes to a sweat lodge in California. In the end, he has the surgery. It’s the same in It’s a Slippery Slope. That’s about us having a child [Forrest], and him still being married to his first wife, and not seeing Forrest until he was eight months old, and learning how to ski at the same time. That was his crisis: becoming a dad and learning how to ski at 52.
PKM: How did you two meet?
Kathie Russo: We met in Rochester, New York. I had gone to college there and then lived there for three years after. My first job out of school was at a performing arts center, the Pyramid Arts Center. My boss brought Spalding in to perform for the weekend and that was it. [Laughs]
PKM: What attracted you to him?
Kathie Russo: I wasn’t attracted to him at first. I thought he was a disheveled old man. He was almost 20 years older than me. But then, in talking with him, he was so different than anyone I had ever met before, the way he thought about things. And I had never seen him perform before until he came to our theater. Watching him perform, I was blown away. That someone could sit there for an hour and a half, and read his story so well, and have you that engaged, I had never seen anything like that before, in theater.
PKM: He’s been gone a long time.
Kathie Russo: 17 years.
PKM: How do you feel him now?
Kathie Russo: I’m not one of those people who gets that sentimental. I’m always surprised when people reach out on his death anniversary, which we don’t really know the exact date of, but they call saying, “Thinking of you today”. That’s very sweet but I don’t dwell on it. I try to remember his birthday and to do something on Father’s Day. We have a few ashes buried at his gravesite [in Oakland Cemetery in Sag Harbor]. We cremated him because he couldn’t make up his mind if he wanted to be cremated or buried. I figured, let’s cremate him and then we’ll spread his ashes in some of his favorite places and then we’ll bury a portion of them, which we did, with a nice tombstone.
Spalding definitely comes back in our lives and it’s usually in the form of bird. We’ve had so many bird experiences that it just can’t possibly be anything other than him coming back. I recorded a story of that, the big bird story, for This American Life [the podcast with Ira Glass]. After Spalding died, there were three days in a row that a bird appeared to each one of us inside our house. It was the same bird and we have no idea how that bird got in but he was there every day, three days in a row.
PKM: When I met Spalding, he was in that phase where he was always talking about the old house on Madison Street. He didn’t want to leave that house, either.
Kathie Russo: That was after the car accident and the brain injury. His mother killed herself shortly after his father bought a house that she didn’t want to move into. She moved into this new house and hated it, and was never the same. She killed herself in that house and in a way Spalding was doing the same thing when we bought this house. He accepted an offer on the [village] house before we even discussed it. I asked him, “What are you doing? Why are you rushing into this?” It was some kind of impulse. We bought this house [outside of Sag Harbor] and we went to Ireland for his 60th birthday and all hell broke loose. In every monologue, he talks about his mother’s death and it having such a profound effect on him. He was always afraid of turning out like her and in the end he recreated her past, again, in his own life.
PKM: Do you see that part of Spalding playing out for our society at all?
Kathie Russo: That’s a much bigger question, one I haven’t really thought about. [Pause] What we’re doing now is getting simpler. We’re getting simpler out of survival mode. What I hear from his good friends who have reached out, is, “Oh my god. How would he be commenting on what the situation is right now? We miss that voice, that smart, keen, intellectual voice that would just hone in on what was going on and make us laugh and make us think about it.”
PKM: What do you consider Spalding’s legacy?
Kathie Russo: His legacy? His boys.
PKM: Forrest mentioned watching home videos of Spalding and Theo talked about all the documentation there is. Is there something on Spalding that everyone should see?
Kathie Russo: And Everything Is Going Fine, the documentary on Spalding that Stephen Soderbergh did. It has those home movies in it.
And Everything Is Going Fine trailer: