Tuesday 24 October 2017

Top US comic's Irish hospital hell to get big-screen treatment

Eddie Fitzmaurice

THE events leading to the death of a top US comedian who killed himself after a harrowing road accident in Ireland are to be examined in a new movie.

Writer and actor Spalding Gray fell into a deep depression after the crash in 2001 and his subsequent treatment in a rural Irish hospital.

The 62-year-old later turned his experiences into a show called Black Spot in which he described his hospital treatment as "primitive".

He committed suicide in 2004 by throwing himself from the Staten Island ferry in New York.

Actress Whoopi Goldberg is among several Hollywood figures backing the film, which is due to go into production next year starring John C Reilly.

Gray's widow, Kathy Russo, who was injured in the crash, is also working on a documentary celebrating his life, as well as a stage play and a book based on his diaries.

She claims it was not until weeks after the accident that Gray, renowned for his witty monologues, was diagnosed with the serious brain injuries that ultimately led to his death. "The car accident in Ireland is really what led him to commit suicide, which a lot of people don't know about," she told a US interviewer.

"We were in Ireland in 2001 (the couple stayed in Co Meath and had been to The Wineport Lodge near Athlone on the night of the accident) to celebrate his 60th birthday and it was our second night there and we were coming back from a restaurant . . . and someone hit us head on.

"We were on a country road and there's not really room for two cars to go by and it was just getting dark and I was driving and Spalding was behind me in the back seat and he wasn't wearing his seat belt. There were three people in the car and I was the only one wearing a seat belt.

"Spalding flew into the back of my head. I needed stitches and he crushed his skull on the right side. We didn't know about that until a couple of weeks after when his head collapsed in and I noticed a dent in his forehead. We were there for the whole summer for his surgeries," Ms Russo said.

"When we heard he needed a head operation we flew home to New York. He had right frontal lobe damage and scar tissue developed, which led to brain damage and that led him to commit suicide and jump off the Staten Island Ferry."

Gray was scathing about the treatment he received after the crash. He told audiences he was left lying on the road in a pool of blood for an hour before an ambulance arrived. He also said that when an emergency crew finally got there and found him screaming in agony from a broken hip, they asked if he was excitable.

He described the hospital he was taken to as "one of those horrible Irish country hospitals".

"The hospital was a madhouse with doctors that wanted to leave me there in traction for six weeks. It was bizarre. I had never seen anything like the carry-on," he said.

He was later transferred to Tallaght Hospital in Dublin, where a titanium rod was inserted into his hip.

It was reported that Gray was working on a new monologue at the time of his death, and that the subject matter of the piece -- the Ireland car crash and his subsequent attempts to recover from his injuries -- might have triggered his final bout of depression and his decision to jump off the Staten Island ferry. His body was later recovered from New York's East River.

Sunday Independent

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