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Literary Icon Gore Vidal Dead at 86


Gore Vidal — gifted author, playwright, critic, and political commentator, as well as a self-determined enigma — died at his home in the Hollywood Hills on Tuesday, of complications from pneumonia. He was 86.

The NYT:

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. He published some 25 novels, two memoirs and several volumes of stylish, magisterial essays. He also wrote plays, television dramas and screenplays. For a while he was even a contract writer at MGM. And he could always be counted on for a spur-of-the-moment aphorism, putdown or sharply worded critique of American foreign policy.

Perhaps more than any other American writer except Norman Mailer or Truman Capote, Mr. Vidal took great pleasure in being a public figure.

GvThe L.A. Times, which adds, at the end of two full pages of accomplishments:

"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," he said in "Gore Vidal: A Biography" (1999) by Fred Kaplan.

Despite his crushing forthrightness on many topics, Vidal preferred ambiguity in the personal realm.

Vidal, who was never married and had no children, wrote in his memoirs about sexual contacts with men, including Kerouac, the Beat poet and writer. But, to the dismay of gay activists, Vidal rejected efforts to put him in any sexual category. He was famous for proclaiming that "there are not homosexual people, only homosexual acts."

His companion of 53 years was Howard Auster, whom he met in New York in the 1950s when Auster was a singer trying to get a job in advertising. Vidal described their relationship as platonic and said "no sex" was the reason for its longevity.

He wrote movingly of Auster's 2003 death from cancer in "Point to Point Navigation" (2006), the sequel to his first memoir, "Palimpsest" (1995). Auster was buried in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, "as I shall be in due course," Vidal wrote, "when I take time off from my busy schedule."

A tribute from Al Jazeera, AFTER THE JUMP...

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  1. Gore Vidal's books and short stories in the 1950s were great escapes for young gays like myself. My favorite short story by him was called "PAGES OF AN ABANDON JOURNAL". I have been thinking of using that concept if and when I write my "Pages of an abandon Photo Album". I am 75, and often look back at a time gays were queer and
    shun by so many. Thank goodness for Gore and Tennessee Williams for giving us their wit and insight into a world that included us.

    Posted by: jerry Pritikin | Aug 1, 2012 7:14:14 AM

  2. RIP, I'll sorely miss him.

    Before the less well read wanna be activists weigh in on the quote attributed to him, the context is that "homosexual" is an adjective; he used "homosexualist" as a noun.

    Thought I'd spare us all some ranting.

    Posted by: NVTodd | Aug 1, 2012 7:55:33 AM

  3. He was a fresh breath of intellectual air, and it was always fascinating to hear what he had to say. The world is a less enlightened place without him.

    Posted by: Jack M | Aug 1, 2012 8:45:02 AM

  4. Lisa: "Gore Vidal's kissed more boys than I have."
    Marge: "Girls, Lisa. Boys kiss girls."

    Posted by: BZ | Aug 1, 2012 8:59:09 AM

  5. "No sex" doesn't cause longevity... it just seems that way.

    Posted by: Anastasia Beaverhausen | Aug 1, 2012 9:23:45 AM

  6. A talented writer with a good intellect.

    He was also a pompous, over bearing spoiled WASP, who because of his very privileged upbringing, had difficulty relating to the 'average' person and bonding with their culture.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Aug 1, 2012 9:48:31 AM

  7. :-(


    Posted by: say what | Aug 1, 2012 10:01:58 AM

  8. Thanks for this post, Andy, all three items the NYT, LAT, and video references.

    I truly feel that anything gay-related and important will be covered by Towleroad.

    Your blog is one of my few daily musts.

    Posted by: AG | Aug 1, 2012 10:21:45 AM

  9. No matter what you may have thought of Mr Vidal, he was one of the prime movers of the freedoms we all experience today in the Gay & Lesbian world. The City and the Pillar, alone brought our issues forward in society with dignity and beauty. And he brought it forward in one of the worse times or our people, the Great American Fear of the 1950's. God Bless Gore Vidal, he remains one of my personal heroes.

    Posted by: miKem | Aug 1, 2012 10:22:11 AM

  10. Yes, Gore Vidal was a frustrating SOB, waspy (and WASP-y), catty, with an acid wit, and a huge snob. But he was also brilliant.

    No matter how he thought about it, what mental gymnastics he went through about his own sexuality, it took some real guts to write "The City & The Pillar" when he did.

    When I realized I was gay I went on a reading binge of gay authors, trying to understand what it meant, the history of it. Gore Vidal was a big part of that, in addition to Tennessee Williams, Oscar Wilde, Truman Capote, Jean Genet, William S Burroughs, Armistead Maupin, and many others. They were the people who took "the love that dare not speak its name" and spoke about it, "polite company" be damned. They refused to sit down and be quiet and mind their manners and brought homosexuality into the open.

    Despite how pissy he could be, Gore Vidal was a lion. Rainbow flags should be at half mast today.

    Posted by: Caliban | Aug 1, 2012 10:32:54 AM

  11. "Rainbow flags should be at half mast today."

    ... indeed!

    A good read:

    Posted by: dave02657 | Aug 1, 2012 10:43:05 AM

  12. I would agree with RatBasard that Gore was pompous and over bearing, and he was also a WASP.

    But, if you read his work, particularly his historical novels, they were written for mass consumption and very successful. Many average people read and enjoyed 'Lincoln,' 'Burr,' and 'Empire.'

    He was an elitist who always supported the underdog. Just watch the famous Buckley/Vidal confrontation at the 1968 Democratic Convention.

    Buckley was supporting the establishment elites.

    Gore supported the kids that didn't want to be drafted and die in Vietnam, aka the 'average' persons.

    Gore was the preeminent 'eminent outlaw.'

    Posted by: Jon | Aug 1, 2012 10:51:11 AM

  13. and also the screenwriter of Caligula...

    My personal fave of Vidal is Julian and United States (his collected essays).

    Posted by: Chitown Kev | Aug 1, 2012 11:08:16 AM

  14. If you've never read them, Myra Breckinridge and its sequel, Myron, really are hilarious, well worth reading.

    Myra Breckinridge was brought up on obscenity charges. I don't know if modern versions still do this, but Vidal's revenge was to substitute the names of Supreme Court justices for "dirty" words in Myron. IIRC, a penis was a "whizzer white," the nickname of SCOTUS Justice Byron White.

    Posted by: Caliban | Aug 1, 2012 11:51:22 AM

  15. A tremendous loss for both the straight and gay communities...for civilization as a whole.

    Posted by: Goodcarver | Aug 1, 2012 11:57:14 AM

  16. !972 or 3, The Library of Foreign Literature in Moscow, between the stacks I am reading "Robin". Oh, be still my heart!
    God rest the restless soul.

    Posted by: chesterton | Aug 1, 2012 12:09:21 PM

  17. "We're not going to be shady--just fierce."
    --Junior LaBeija

    Gore Vidal was the fiercest Liberal who ever lived.

    Posted by: Derrick from Philly | Aug 1, 2012 12:17:53 PM

  18. He had two sides: an experimental literary approach to storytelling and a cranky paranoia that probably stems from the insecurity he felt about his elite status being undermined by his sexual minority status. The one side required a lot of talent, but cranky paranoia requires no real skill at all.

    Posted by: anon | Aug 1, 2012 12:50:58 PM

  19. @NVTodd: The term "homosexual people" uses the word "homsexual" as an adjective, not a noun.
    There are, indeed, honosexual people (people whose natural sexual and romantic orientation is overwhelmingly toward members of the same sex). Whenever I hear a quote like that, I suspect the person speaking is bisexual and has trouble putting himself into the shoes of someone who cannot as easily choose "acts" of sex and romance with one sex as the other.

    Posted by: Gregv | Aug 1, 2012 1:04:26 PM

  20. When I read of Gore Vidal's death this morning I shed a tear and my heart sank a little. I did so admire Gore Vidal. I love his prose and was captivated by his public interviews and discussions. I remember well how he drove Bill Buckley to livid distraction. He was Buckley's intellectual superior and it drove Buckley mad.

    Pompous? Perhaps. If he was too aristocratic for some, he was old school aristocrat who practiced noblesse oblige. He always defended the average man and I'm so very proud he was an openly gay man.

    The world lost a great intellect, essayist and human being today. I shall miss Gore Vidal, but I'm glad I shall have so many volumes of his works to help keep his intellect and spirit alive, at least in my heart.

    Posted by: Bob R | Aug 1, 2012 1:15:27 PM

  21. One of the great writers of the 20th century- his brilliant essays are a must read.

    Posted by: jaragon | Aug 1, 2012 5:56:32 PM

  22. I keep re-reading his books. Brilliant writer.

    Posted by: kodiak | Aug 1, 2012 6:54:29 PM

  23. Vidal was brilliant. So brilliant in fact, that he was against gay marriage. (60 Minutes interview)

    Posted by: Gary | Aug 1, 2012 7:10:22 PM

  24. Cheers Caligula!

    Posted by: LauraLoonie | Aug 1, 2012 8:12:37 PM

  25. Vidal has said that his first love was Jimmie Trimble, who was, in fact, movie star handsome and very hot.


    Yet, I am not clear if he was a crush that Vidal had or if they actually had a sexual relationship. In "The City and the Pillar" he describes a friendship that becomes sexual, which could have been the actual story between himself and Trimble. Or the book could be the description of what he hoped might have happened.

    Does anyone know?

    Posted by: gr8guyca | Aug 2, 2012 2:34:37 AM

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