May 21, 2013
Iconoclastic author Gore Vidal dead at 86
Writer Gore Vidal, who filled his novels and essays with acerbic observations on politics, sex and American culture while carrying on feuds with big-name literary rivals, died on Tuesday at home in Los Angeles of complications from pneumonia, age 86.
Vidal's literary legacy includes a series of historical novels - "Burr," "1876," "Lincoln" and "The Golden Age" among them - as well as the campy transsexual comedy "Myra Breckinridge".
He started writing as a 19-year-old soldier stationed in Alaska, basing "Williwaw" on his World War Two experiences. His third book, "The City and the Pillar," created a sensation in 1948 because it was one of the first open portrayals of a homosexual main character.
Confirming his death, his official website posted a memoriam with two pictures of Vidal, one as a young military warrant officer during World War Two and another as the iconoclastic writer he would become.
He referred to himself as a "gentleman bitch" and was as egotistical and caustic as he was elegant and brilliant.
In addition to rubbing shoulders with the great writers of his time, he banged heads with many of them. Vidal considered Ernest Hemingway a joke and compared Truman Capote to a "filthy animal that has found its way into the house".
His most famous literary enemies were conservative pundit William F. Buckley Jr. and writer Norman Mailer, who Vidal once likened to cult killer Charles Manson.
Mailer head-butted Vidal before a television appearance and on another occasion knocked him to the ground.
Vidal and Buckley took their feud to live national television while serving as commentators at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Vidal accused Buckley of being a "pro-crypto-Nazi" while Buckley called Vidal a "queer" and threatened to punch him.
Vidal seemed to make no effort to curb his abundant ego.
In a 2008 interview with Esquire magazine Vidal said people always seemed impressed that he had met so many famous people, such as Jacqueline Kennedy and William Burroughs.
"People always put that sentence the wrong way around," he said. "I mean, why not put it the true way - that these people got to meet me, and wanted to?"
Eugene Luther Vidal Jr. was born on October 3, 1925 in West Point, New York, and eventually took his mother's surname as his first name. He grew up in Washington, DC. Vidal was known for his sharp essays on society, sex, literature and politics.
He once described the United States as "the land of the dull and the home of the literal" and starting in the 1960s lived much of the time in a seaside Italian villa. He moved back permanently in 2003, shortly before Howard Austen, his companion of more than 50 years, died of cancer.