Gore Vidal has died at the age of 86 in L.A. at his home on the Hollywood Hills of complications from pneumonia.
Along with such contemporaries as Norman Mailer and Truman Capote, Vidal was among the last generation of literary writers who were also genuine celebrities , he was a fixtures on talk shows and in gossip columns, personalities of such size and appeal that even those who hadn’t read their books knew who they were.
Vidal loved to drink take drugs and never married. He lived the ideal hedonistic lifestyle of an international writer. For decades, he lived in Italy where he worked and played sharing his time among his residence in Rome and a scenic villa in Ravello, Italy, which he shared with companion Howard Austen.
In the 1960s and 70s, he was a fixture on talk shows and other television programs and feuded openly with Norman Mailer, William F. Buckley and others.
He also worked on screenplays and appeared in several movies, including Bob Roberts and With Honors.
His works included hundreds of essays; the best-selling novels Lincoln and Myra Breckinridge turned into a poorly received film starting Rachel Welch back in the seventies, the groundbreaking The City and the Pillar, among the first novels about openly gay characters; and the Tony-nominated political drama The Best Man, revived on Broadway in 2012.
He was tall and distinguished looking, as much of an aristocrat as an American can be, a sort of campy patrician, possessing a haughty baritone , Vidal appeared cold and cynical on the surface.
However, he bore a melancholy regard for lost worlds, for the primacy of the written word, for “the ancient American sense that whatever is wrong with human society can be put right by human action.”
Vidal was uncomfortable with the literary and political establishment, and the feeling was mutual. He was widely admired as an independent thinker – in the tradition of Mark Twain and HL Mencken – about literature, culture, politics and, as he liked to call it, “the birds and the bees.”
He loved to pick apart politicians, living and dead; mocked religion and prudery; opposed wars from Vietnam to Iraq and insulted his peers like no other, once observing that the three saddest words in the English language were “Joyce Carol Oates.” (The happiest words: “I told you so”).
Vidal had an old-fashioned belief in honour, but a modern will to live as he pleased. He wrote in the memoir Palimpsest that he had more than 1000 “sexual encounters,” nothing special, he added, compared to the pursuits of such peers as John F Kennedy and Tennessee Williams.
As much as controversy tended to follow him or he tended to create it with his ways and opinions, one of the most unusual bonds was the one he formed with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. The two exchanged letters after Vidal’s 1998 article in Vanity Fair on “the shredding” of the Bill of Rights and their friendship inspired Edmund White’s play Terre Haute.
“He’s very intelligent. He’s not insane,” Vidal said of McVeigh in a 2001 interview.
Vidal also bewildered his fans by saying the Bush administration likely had advance knowledge of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks; that McVeigh was no more a killer than Dwight Eisenhower and that the U.S. would eventually be subservient to China, “The Yellow Man’s Burden.”
In recent years, Vidal wrote the novel The Smithsonian Institution and the nonfiction best sellers Perpetual War For Perpetual Peace and Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta.
A second memoir, Point to Point Navigation, came out in 2006. In 2009, Gore Vidal: Snapshots in History’s Glare’ featured pictures of Vidal with Newman, Jagger, Johnny Carson, Jack Nicholson and Bruce Springsteen.
“Because there is no cosmic point to the life that each of us perceives on this distant bit of dust at galaxy’s edge,” he once wrote, “all the more reason for us to maintain in proper balance what we have here. “Because there is nothing else. Nothing. This is it. And quite enough, all in all.” There are days when this makes perfect sense and others when the mere thought that this is it becomes utterly terrifying; one thing is for sure: We will never know until we get there.
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