Gore Vidal, the seminal wordsmith, jack of all things witty, provocative, and erudite in the many writings he authored, who always seemed to have his finger firmly entrenched on the pulse of the national culture politically and socially throughout much of the mid-20th century, died of complications from pneumonia on July 31, 2012, in Hollywood at his home, reports The New York Times. The news was confirmed by his nephew, the filmmaker Burr Steers, who said his uncle had been sick for some time. Vidal was 86 years old.
He spread himself eclectically in the arts, mainly in the literary circuits and was responsible for penning over 20 books in his lifetime. One of them, his third, entitled The City and the Pillar, published in 1948, was one of the first major tomes to explore themes of homosexuality (Vidal himself was bisexual), something that was all but taboo during that post-World War II, post-President Roosevelt America. Vidal’s penchant for syntax and printed word ran at fever pitch; he penned essays on sundry hotbed topics as sexuality, religion, politics, and literature, the results of which equally divided the followers and haters of his works and eventually earned him National Book Award honors in the early 1990s for a voluminous anthology of those essays, which spanned 40 years in the book, and was entitled United States Essays, 1952-1992. Vidal is also well known for his historical assessments on the lives of Abraham Lincoln and Aaron Burr, as well as the satiric novel Myra Beckinridge, which was adapted into a cult campy arguably awful film in 1970 starring Raquel Welch as a transsexual and also starring the inimitable Mae West.
Vidal had an array of high profile friends and foes, compatriot writers such as Tennessee Willams, Truman Capote, and Jack Kerouac and celebrities and public figures such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Paul Newman, and Marlon Brando made up his short list in his traveling circles of people he associated with. Expounding on all of them and others in his writings, Vidal himself became a huge public figure as a result of doing so.
He also had some notorious feuds on the air during this time, one of the most controversial being his short verbal sparring with right-wing extraordinaire stalwart William F. Buckley during ABC’s live coverage of the 1968 Democratic Convention, in which Vidal called him a “Crypto Nazi.” You can see that and video of his other publicized feud with writer Norman Mailer on The Dick Cavett Show a few years later, at the end of this article.
In addition to his mass amount of novels and essays, Vidal fancied himself as a playwright, wrote screenplays – Ben-Hur among them – TV dramas, even mysteries (in which he used an original penname for the author credit). He also dabbled briefly in acting, appearing in a few films, a standout was his appearance in the sci-fi thriller Gattica. Vidal also attempted to run for public office even during his illustrious career.
Controversial and a self-made sophisticate who had the gift of gab and was an absolute sight to behold in print, in his arts and literature and even just looking at his visage expound about many topics of relevance on film and television appearances, Gore Vidal was a true renaissance man in every sense of the word. The English language got a much-needed shot in the arm during his lifetime, what he gave to it, how he used it, and what he showed could be done with it. His ideologies, keen sensibilities, and flavor for looking at life and writing about it will not be forgotten.