Monologuist, actor, and novelist Spalding Gray was born June 5, 1941 in Barrington, Rhode Island; after co-founding the experimental theatrical company the Wooster Group in 1977, he completed his first major monologue, Sex and Death to the Age 14, performing the piece throughout the U.S. and Europe. His work off-Broadway and in films helped him land a small role in Roland Joffé's 1984 feature The Killing Fields, an experience that became the basis of Gray's breakthrough piece Swimming to Cambodia; originally running four hours in length, the monologue was edited to 80 minutes when in 1987 it reached theaters as a film directed by Jonathan Demme.
Monster in a Box (1991), directed by Nick Broomfield, concerned Gray's attempts to complete his epic novel Impossible Vacation, published the following year; a third feature film, the Steven Soderbergh-helmed Gray's Anatomy, followed in 1996. The compact disc edition of his monologue It's a Slippery Slope appeared two years later.
Gray sustained severe injuries in a head-on car collision while on vacation in Ireland during 2001, and the collision and its aftermath exacerbated the depression he had suffered for years. In January 2004, Gray was declared missing in New York, and two months later, on March 7, 2004, his body was pulled from the East River. It was presumed that he had committed suicide by jumping off the Staten Island ferry.