Gore Vidal, the author, playwright, politician and commentator whose novels, essays, plays and opinions were stamped by his immodest wit and unconventional wisdom, has died in Los Angeles…
His works included hundreds of essays; the best-selling novels Lincoln and Myra Breckenridge; the groundbreaking The City and the Pillar, among the first novels about openly gay characters; and the Tony-nominated political drama The Best Man, revived on Broadway in 2012.
Tall and with a haughty baritone not unlike that of his conservative arch-enemy William F Buckley Jr, Vidal appeared cold and cynical on the surface. But he bore a melancholy regard for lost worlds, for the primacy of the written word, for “the ancient American sense that whatever is wrong with human society can be put right by human action”.
He was widely admired as an independent thinker in the tradition of Mark Twain and HL Mencken about literature, culture, politics and, as he liked to call it, “the birds and the bees”. He picked apart politicians, living and dead; mocked religion and prudery; opposed wars from Vietnam to Iraq; and insulted his peers like no other…
Vidal had an old-fashioned belief in honour but a modern will to live as he pleased. He wrote in the memoir Palimpsest that he had more than 1,000 “sexual encounters” – nothing special, he added, compared with the pursuits of such peers as John F Kennedy and Tennessee Williams.
Vidal was fond of drink and alleged that he had sampled every major drug once. He never married and for decades shared a scenic villa in Ravello, Italy, with companion Howard Austen.
America’s “entertainment” networks tried often to blacklist Vidal. They always failed. The world of theatre in New York City would never cooperate. Sophisticated publishers would not shut out someone who made them money and entertained the best minds in the world.
The broad sweep of Americans first knew him from a TV production of “Visit to a Small Planet” – later made into a mediocre movie. Though kept off the networks for his opposition to the VietNam War, public television usually found niches for his independent voice. One of the early reasons for Republicans to want PBS defunded.
He was a rhetorician. His condemnations of bigotry and imperial arrogance were always worth quoting. His defense of liberty and advocacy for democratic rights never relented. He will be missed.