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Case of Spalding Gray baffles

Actor still missing despite many tips

NEW YORK -- Nearly two months after actor-writer Spalding Gray walked out of his Manhattan apartment and disappeared, his wife holds out hope that he will return unharmed.

"Everyone that looks like him from behind, I go up and check to make sure it's not him," Kathleen Russo said in a recent phone interview. "If someone calls and hangs up, I always do star-69. You're always thinking, `maybe.' "

Police said they have received 36 tips since Gray's disappearance Jan. 10, including several accounts from reliable witnesses who believe they saw Gray on the Staten Island Ferry the night he vanished. Russo has said she fears he may have tried to jump off the boat.

Gray tried suicide several times, including an attempt in late 2002 to jump off a bridge near his second home at the east end of Long Island. A passerby talked him down.

Most of the tips have led nowhere, officials said.

One came from a former police officer who thought he saw Gray in a diner in Newburgh, N.Y., about 60 miles north of New York City. But when police reviewed tape from the diner's surveillance camera from that day, they saw no sign of the actor.

A woman in Beverly Hills, Calif., snapped a photograph of a man she thought was Gray and sent it to Russo. It wasn't him.

"Spalding had one of those faces. People often told him, `You look really familiar.' He looks like a professor they once had or something," Russo said.

With his wiry gray hair and intelligent eyes, Gray, 62, projected an academic air in the 18 theatrical monologues he wrote and performed beginning in 1979. Several were made into films, including "Swimming to Cambodia" (1987), which begins as a memoir of his appearance in the film "The Killing Fields," and "Gray's Anatomy" (1996), a humorous recounting of his quest to cure an eye condition. He also played roles in feature films and on Broadway.

His monologues were intensely autobiographical but did not convey the depths of his periodic depressions, according to Richard Schechner, founder of the Performance Group, a downtown Manhattan theater troupe Gray joined in 1970.

"His theatrical persona was of someone who always saw the humor and irony in life, but as an actual person, he battled depression and fears," Schechner said after Gray's disappearance.

Gray addressed those inner conflicts in the monologue, "It's a Slippery Slope," in which he tells the audience he had to overcome a deep depression associated with his turning 52 -- the age of his mother when she committed suicide.

More recently, Gray acknowledged that a head-on car crash in 2001 left him particularly despondent about his physical limitations.

Russo has two sons, ages 11 and 6, and a stepdaughter with Gray. She has been frustrated that she has nothing to tell them beyond "Dad's missing, and the police are looking."

The lack of certainty has been equally painful for Russo. She and Gray spent much of every day together since their marriage 10 years ago, sharing meals and often hiking or biking.

She has relied on the companionship of relatives and friends, and has been reading books about other people who have lived through the disappearance or suicide of a loved one. She also tries to be "as present as possible" for her children, with whom she has been planning a vacation to Arizona.

She still hopes that Gray will turn up unscathed. Still, Russo said, "He's had some kind of accident, either intentional or not."

In the absence of news, the family can only wait. "If you can imagine, it's pretty awful," she said. "There's no closure, no answers -- no definitive outcome."

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