I never imagined that I could sit through and even enjoy a feature-length film of a guy talking to an audience until I saw a certain movie -- and I don't mean An Inconvenient Truth, either. I am thinking of Swimming to Cambodia, the 1987 film that introduced so many of us to Spalding Gray, as shown above. Gray sits at a desk for about 90 minutes and tells us stories about his experiences in the cast of The Killing Fields, which was shot in Cambodia. I first saw the movie on TV in 1989 and I've been fascinated with it ever since. Sometimes I can hear that opening monologue in my head, the one that starts with "It was the first day off in a long time" and ends with the waiter dropping the last tray of beer. And the bit with the banana that sticks in the wall. And the whole "perfect moment" theme, which I remembered the time I went to Hamilton Pool outside of Austin and told a friend, "Okay, this is my perfect moment for Austin. I can leave now." (That was in 1992. I am still here.) I own a DVD of Swimming to Cambodia only because I ordered it from Canada -- it is currently out of print in the U.S.
Gray was a character actor who allegedly had small roles in porn films like The Opening of Misty Beethoven in the 1970s, although I've never seen a reliable confirmation. Besides The Killing Fields, his filmography includes True Stories, Beaches, the Steven Soderbergh film King of the Hill, and Kate & Leopold -- minor roles, for the most part. Many people remember him from his monologue films: Swimming to Cambodia, Monster in a Box and Gray's Anatomy. It was on this day in 2004 that Gray committed suicide. He left no note and was considered missing; two months later, it was discovered that he had jumped off the Staten Island Ferry. The Guardian has a profile about Gray's death and the events leading up to the tragedy.