Gore Vidal, American Essayist and Literary Firebrand, Dies at 86

Gore Vidal, the literary titan and quintessential American essayist, has died. He was 86

Gore Vidal, the literary titan and quintessential American essayist, has died. He was 86.

Vidal died from complications of pneumonia at home in Los Angeles, a family member told the media.

He was one of the 20th century’s foremost authors, writing 25 novels in his lifetime including “Burr,” “Myra Breckinridge” and “Lincoln.”

But he was also a critic of American politics, an iconoclast unafraid of bucking mainstream political views and a sharp-witted, prolific essayist.

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Vidal’s productivity was prodigious, and his status as a figure on the landscape of American letters unassailable. In his long literary career, he wrote novels, screenplays, plays, essays and television scripts.

One of his plays, "The Best Man," is back on Broadway with James Earl Jones, Cybill Shepherd and John Larroquette starring in the piece written in 1960.

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But Vidal's essays were considered his most potent form of communication. In 1993, he won the National Book Award for Nonfiction for the collection “United States: Essays 1952–1992,” a survey of American history that touched on politics, sociology, culture, sex, religion and anything else that moved him.

Among his many pithy observations that have wended their way into the American vernacular are:

“It is not enough merely to win; others must lose.” And: “No good deed goes unpunished." And also: “Never have children, only grandchildren.”

The award cited his “artist's resonant appreciation, a scholar's conscience and the persuasive powers of a great essayist.”

In 2009, he won the annual Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation, which called him a "prominent social critic on politics, history, literature, and culture."

Vidal had famous verbal duels with leading American intellectuals, most particularly the conservative William F. Buckley, which began in 1968 when he was invited by ABC to comment on the presidential election.

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The two (above) clashed on-air, with Vidal calling Buckley a "pro-crypto Nazi," and Buckley calling him a "queer." The feud went on into later years, and Buckley ultimately sued Vidal for libel, which was settled out of court.

In recent years Vidal had been particularly vocal about George W. Bush's administration and what he considered American imperialism. His last group of essays was titled, “The Last Empire.”

He often treated homosexuality in his writing, and in his own life had relationships with both men and women.

His third novel, "The City and the Pillar," published in 1948, was one of the first major American novels to feature unambiguous homosexuality.

In his personal life he was associated with writer Anais Nin and was briefly engaged to Joanne Woodward before she married Paul Newman.

In 1950, he met his long-time partner Howard Austen.

Among his screen credits are such works as “Is Paris Burning,” “Caligula” and “Suddenly Last Summer.”

Vidal, who was critical of both the Democratic and Republican parties, ran for Congress in 1960 in New York's 29th congressional district, a traditionally Republican district on the Hudson River. He lost. In 1982 he campaigned against Gov. Jerry Brown for the Democratic primary election to the United States Senate from California. He lost that, too.

Here are some other memorable remarks by Vidal, courtesy of goodreads.com:

>> “The genius of our ruling class is that it has kept a majority of the people from ever questioning the inequity of a system where most people drudge along paying heavy taxes for which they get nothing in return.”

>> “Monotheism is easily the greatest disaster to befall the human race.”

>> “Actually, there is no such thing as a homosexual person, any more than there is such a thing as a heterosexual person. The words are adjectives describing sexual acts, not people. The sexual acts are entirely normal; if they were not, no one would perform them.”

>> "Today's public figures can no longer write their own speeches or books, and there is some evidence that they can't read them either. ”