Gore Vidal, writer was 86

gore-vidal-82-upi.jpgVidal died this evening at his home in the Hollywood Hills, where he was living alone. Complications of pneumonia, his nephew Burr Steers has been telling the media. Little known fact, per Variety: Vidal did the voice of himself on both "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy."

Selected quotes:

"Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President. One hopes it is the same half.”

"The unfed mind devours itself.”

"It is not enough merely to win; others must lose.”

"Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little.”

“As I looked back over my life, I realized that I enjoyed nothing--not art, not sex--more than going to the movies."

Here's the New York Times lede:

Gore Vidal, the elegant, acerbic all-around man of letters who presided with a certain relish over what he declared to be the end of American civilization, died on Tuesday at his home in the Hollywood Hills section of Los Angeles, where he moved in 2003, after years of living in Ravello, Italy. ...

Mr. Vidal was, at the end of his life, an Augustan figure who believed himself to be the last of a breed, and he was probably right. Few American writers have been more versatile or gotten more mileage from their talent. He published some 25 novels, two memoirs and several volumes of stylish essays. He also wrote plays, television dramas and screenplays. For a while he was even a contract writer at MGM. And he could always be counted on for a spur-of-the-moment aphorism, putdown or sharply worded critique of American foreign policy.

Perhaps more than any other American writer except Norman Mailer or Truman Capote, Mr. Vidal took great pleasure in being a public figure. He twice ran for office — in 1960, when he was the Democratic Congressional candidate for the 29th District in upstate New York, and in 1982, when he campaigned in California for a seat in the Senate — and though he lost both times, he often conducted himself as a sort of unelected shadow president. He once said, “There is not one human problem that could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.”

From the first blog post in the Los Angeles Times, which has a full obituary pending.

Vidal was a literary juggernaut who wrote 25 novels, including historical works such as “Lincoln” and “Burr” and satires such as “Myra Breckinridge” and “Duluth.” He was also a prolific essayist whose pieces on 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.”

Threaded throughout his pieces are anecdotes about his famous friends and foes, who included Anais Nin, Tennessee Williams, Christopher Isherwood, Orson Welles, Truman Capote, Frank Sinatra, Jack Kerouac, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Eleanor Roosevelt and a variety of Kennedys. He counted Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Al Gore among his relatives.

He also wrote Broadway hits, screenplays, television dramas and a trio of mysteries under a pseudonym that remain in print after 50 years.

When he wasn’t writing, he was popping up in movies, playing himself in “Fellini’s Roma,” a sinister plotter in sci-fi thriller “Gattaca” and a U.S. senator in “Bob Roberts.” In other spare moments, he made two entertaining but unsuccessful forays into politics, running for the Senate from California and Congress in New York, and established himself as a master of talk-show punditry who demolished intellectual rivals like Norman Mailer and William F. Buckley with acidic one-liners.

From Variety's obit:

The prolific, and often controversial, writer Gore Vidal, who contributed to the theater, TV and film with such notable Broadway dramas as "The Best Man" and "Visit to a Small Planet" (both adapted from his original teleplays) and screen adaptations of Tennessee Williams' "Suddenly Last Summer" and "The Last of the Mobile Hot Shots," died at his home in the Hollywood Hills at about 6:45 p.m. Tuesday of complications from pneumonia, says the author's nephew Burr Steers. Vidal had been living alone in the home and had been sick for "quite a while," said Steers.

The privileged grandson of a U.S. senator, Thomas Pryor Gore, Vidal penned historical novels like "Burr" and "Lincoln" as well as highly opinionated essays on American social and political life.

Never one to shy away from controversy, the politically unpredictable Vidal was both an elitist and a liberal. He could pick fights with the best of them, most notably with writer Norman Mailer, with whom he came to blows, and William F. Buckley, who sued him for libel after Vidal referred to him as a crypto-Nazi while the two were commentators for ABC during the strife-ridden 1968 Democratic Convention. Vidal also freely criticized the American political system, often from more than arm's length in Italy, where he lived (and wrote) on and off for the second half of his life. His autobiography "Palimpsest" was a no-holds barred telling of his social, professional and private life and an acute observation of the political and entertainment nabobs he encountered over the years.

Vidal also enjoyed the company of presidents, most notably John Kennedy, and celebrities and was usually at home on television talkshows speaking about American politics and social mores.

From the Associated Press obituary:

Along with such contemporaries as Norman Mailer and Truman Capote, Vidal was among the last generation of literary writers who were also genuine celebrities -- 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.

His works included hundreds of essays; the best-selling novels "Lincoln" and "Myra Breckenridge"; the groundbreaking "The City and the Pillar," among the first novels about openly gay characters; and the Tony-nominated play "The Best Man," revived on Broadway in 2012.

Tall and distinguished looking, with a haughty baritone not unlike that of his conservative arch-enemy William F. Buckley, Vidal appeared cold and cynical on the surface. But 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. Beyond an honorary National Book Award in 2009, he won few major writing prizes, lost both times he ran for office and initially declined membership into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, joking that he already belonged to the Diners Club. (He was eventually admitted, in 1999).

UPI photo: Vidal as a candidate in 1982

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