Celebrated American man of letters has died at the age of 86 after complications of pneumonia, his nephew Burr Steers said by telephone.
Myra Breckinridge’s novelist was also the acclaimed author of 25 novels, including best-sellers Burr and Lincoln. Vidal wrote more than 200 essays, seven plays, TV and movie scripts, the precise number of that nobody knows.
Vidal’s pieces were connected with politics, sexuality, religion and literature – once described as “elegantly sustained demolition derbies” – both delighted and inflamed and in 1993 earned him a National Book Award for his massive “United States Essays, 1952-1992.”
Almost half a century ago, the writer and playwright faced mainstream critics as one of the first major American writers to describe and embrace unambiguous homosexuality. In 2008, he said, America is “rotting away” — and not to expect President Obama to save it.
He famously came close to fisticuffs with William F. Buckley Jr. during a live TV debate at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, writes Entertainment Weekly.
Vidal was an actor (Gattaca, With Honors), a game show panelist (What’s My Line?), and a frequent guest on Johnny Carson’s sofa (where he made witty banter during 16 Tonight Show appearances, almost as many as Charo).
“I never thought about myself as a ‘personality,’’’ the writer told reporters back in 2006, when he was promoting Point to Point Navigation, a second volume of personal memoirs.
“To go around in a purple suit or something just to get attention — that’s not my style. But you’ve got to amuse yourself somehow, you know? And I find that being on TV is a lot more amusing than actually watching it.’’
As NPR says, Vidal picked 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 author “meant everything to me when I was learning how to write and learning how to read,” Dave Eggers said at the 2009 National Book Awards ceremony, when he and Vidal received honorary citations.
“His words, his intellect, his activism, his ability and willingness to always speak up and hold his government accountable, especially, has been so inspiring to me I can’t articulate it.” Ralph Ellison labeled him a “campy patrician.”
The illness and death of his longtime partner, Howard Auster in 2003 had become the start of Vidal’s health—and luck—long slide. The author wrote a book, describing the illness and death of his partner of five decades with who he lived in self-imposed exile in Ravello, Italy for more than 30 years.
Of their relationship, Vidal wrote, “It’s easy to sustain a relationship when sex plays no part and impossible, I have observed, when it does.”
Celebrated American man had to sell Swallows Nest, his beloved cliff-side villa in Ravello, and moved to his Hollywood Hills home, filled with framed photographs of the famous friends he’d made over the years.
According to reports, in the living room, the Burr author kept a somber picture of Jackie Kennedy, apparently taken in the early 1960s. “To Gore,” she scrawled across her frowning visage, “who makes it impossible to look this serious.”