Gore Vidal, a celebrated, award-winning writer, actor, progressive activist and acerbic socio-political commentator, style icon, and iconoclast, has died, in his Hollywood Hills home, at the age of 86. Vidal’s nephew, Burr Steers, announced he had passed around 6:45 PM Pacific Time, from complications of pneumonia, after being ill “quite a while.”
Eugene Luther Gore Vidal appeared in a dozen films and was the author of 26 essays and works of non-fiction, 25 novels, 14 screenplays, and eight plays. Vidal once called George W. Bush “the stupidest man in the United States.”
Vidal is believed to have had affairs with over 1000 men and women, and met his long-term partner, Howard Austen, in 1950.
“The acerbic Vidal was known for such best-selling novels as Burr and Myra Breckenridge, the play The Best Man, and for essays on everything from politics and literature to sex and religion,” the London Evening Standard wrote:
In the 1960s and 70s he was a fixture on talk shows and other television programmes and feuded openly with Norman Mailer, William Buckley and others.
He also worked on screenplays and appeared in several films, including Bob Roberts and With Honors.
Some of Vidal’s most-celebrated screenplays include Ben Hur (1959), Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), and Caligula (1979).
Vidal, often quoted, is believed to have said:
“Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.”
“I was halfway through Myra Breckinridge before I realized she was a man.”
“In America, the race goes to the loud, the solemn, the hustler. If you think you’re a great writer, you must say that you are.”
“The United States was founded by the brightest people in the country — and we haven’t seen them since.”
“By the time a man gets to be presidential material, he’s been bought ten times over.”
“The last time I sat on this stage, I was afflicted by a fly. An awful fly that kept buzzing around my head as I spoke […] After a while, I realized the fly was the late Truman Capote.”
“Fifty percent of people won’t vote, and fifty percent don’t read newspapers. I hope it’s the same fifty percent.”
“We have no war. We have acts of aggression by the president toward other countries. This is all illegal and unconstitutional.”
“I am at heart a propagandist, a tremendous hater, a tiresome nag, complacently positive that there is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.”
“It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.”
“Each writer is born with a repertory company in his head. Shakespeare has perhaps 20 players, and Tennessee Williams has about 5, and Samuel Beckett one — and maybe a clone of that one. I have 10 or so, and that’s a lot. As you get older, you become more skillful at casting them.”
“I am an obsessive rewriter, doing one draft and then another and another, usually five. In a way, I have nothing to say, but a great deal to add.”
“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,” the L.A. Times reports:
“Style,” Vidal once said, “is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.” By that definition, he was an emperor of style, sophisticated and cantankerous in his prophesies of America’s fate and refusal to let others define him.
Noting that Vidal “could always be counted on for a spur-of-the-moment aphorism, putdown or sharply worded critique of American foreign policy,” the New York Times called 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.”
“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,” the Times noted:
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.”
He was a more than occasional guest on TV talk shows, where his poise, wit, looks and charm made him such a regular that Johnny Carson offered him a spot as a guest host of “The Tonight Show.”
Television was a natural medium for Mr. Vidal, who in person was often as cool and detached as he was in his prose. “Gore is a man without an unconscious,” his friend the Italian writer Italo Calvino once said. Mr. Vidal said of himself: “I’m exactly as I appear. There is no warm, lovable person inside. Beneath my cold exterior, once you break the ice, you find cold water.”
Mr. Vidal loved conspiracy theories of all sorts, especially the ones he imagined himself at the center of, and he was a famous feuder; he engaged in celebrated on-screen wrangles with Mailer, Capote and William F. Buckley Jr. Mr. Vidal did not lightly suffer fools — a category that for him comprised a vast swath of humanity, elected officials especially — and he was not a sentimentalist or a romantic. “Love is not my bag,” he said.
By the time he was 25, he had already had more than 1,000 sexual encounters with both men and women, he boasted in his memoir “Palimpsest.” Mr. Vidal tended toward what he called “same-sex sex,” but frequently declared that human beings were inherently bisexual, and that labels like gay (a term he particularly disliked) or straight were arbitrary and unhelpful. For 53 years, he had a live-in companion, Howard Austen, a former advertising executive, but the secret of their relationship, he often said, was that they had never slept together.
Image, top, Gore Vidal, 1948
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