Gore Vidal, one of America's most prolific, brilliant, and provocative writers of all time, died yesterday at his Hollywood Hills home.
Vidal was an unapologetic aristocrat. The son of an airlines titan and a socialite, the grandson of a United States Senator, and the stepson of Jacqueline Kennedy's stepfather, Vidal attended the exclusive St. Albans School in Washington, D.c. and New Hampshire's Phillips Exeter Academy. It was at the former where he fell in love with Jimmie Trimble (killed in WW II); the romance shaped his powerful coming-out novel, The City and the Pillar (1948), which, although tame by today's standards, created a firestorm in the literary world. At Exeter, his fellow student, John Knowles, later used Vidal as his model for Brinker Hadley, a character in A Separate Peace (1959).
Gore's writing gifts crossed all genres. He penned powerful, widely praised historical novels, including Washington, D.C. (1967) and Burr (1973). He was a consummate playwright and screenplay writer. His adaptation of his own play, The Best Man: A Play about Politics (1960), became a successful movie by the same name in 1964, starring Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson who played political rivals, vying for the Presidency amidst a dirty, smear-filled campaign.
He won a 1982 National Book Critics Circle Award for The Second American Revolution and Other Essays (1976-1982), a collection of essays. In 2009, the National Book Awards bestowed on him its Lifetime Achievement Award.
Twice he ran for political office -- In 1960, Eleanor Roosevelt encouraged him to try for the 29th New York Congressional seat. His platform, tax the rich, won him more Democratic votes in that Republican stronghold than at any other time in the past 50 years, but he lost the race.
Two years later in California, he also lost his bid for a seat in the United States Senate.
His public life was quite colorful. He head-butted author Norman Mailer when both were guests on The Dick Cavett Show. He sued Truman Capote for libel (and won an apology). He and William F. Buckley called each other dreadful names, another argument which was played out in the courts. And he shocked readers with his take on Timothy McVeigh and the September 11th attacks in Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace: How We Got to Be so Hated (2002).
Mr. Vidal, who was 86, died of complications from pneumonia.