Celebrated writer, thinker, cultural commentator and wit Gore Vidal died Tuesday at the age of 86, ending a long and unabashedly prickly career. Many obituaries described the great man as "elegant." Others described him as the last of the great, American-aristocratic "men of letters."
Essentially everyone seems to view Gore Vidal's passing as the end of an age: the sad, if not entirely unexpected death of the last major writer and cultural commentator of the World War II era.
It's been a bad couple of years for the brilliant and acerbic - just look at the death of Christopher Hitchens - and with Vidal's passing, so passes an era. We may never experience such one-liners again. (Twitter's got nothing on Gore Vidal).
Vidal lived in an era of largely un-analyzed American niceness and optimism. For his part, he had no such illusions.
And that is part of why he was so important.
Read more: The Gore Vidal Pages
Here is something about his life.
Vidal's career was exceptionally long, and was also exceptionally prolific: he published his first book at the age of nineteen with 1946's "Williwaw," describing his Alaskan Harbor Detachment duty during WWII. His last, "Gore Vidal: Snapshots in History's Glare," a so-called "visual memoir," came out in 2009.
He wrote 25 novels, hundreds of essays, and so many plays that he found he had lost track. A Broadway production of his "The Best Man" is currently playing on Broadway, and will be running until mid-September.
Loathe to restrain himself to the written word, he appeared in movies, including "Fellini's Roma," "Gattaca," and "Bob Roberts" - often playing himself.
He also wrote for film, working on "Ben-Hur" (where he inserted a not-entirely subtle homosexual undercurrent to the proceedings), and writing "The Best Man," as well as the camp-classic novel Myra Breckinridge." He also wrote the infamously pornographic "Caligula," which he declined (probably wisely) to put his name to.
Vidal also took a couple of unsuccessful stabs at politics, running for a California state senatorial seat in 1982, and as the Democratic Congressional candidate for the 29th district in New York. Neither attempt was successful, but they put him in the public eye - not that he ever really left it. Which was how Vidal liked it.
Vidal's sexual identity was a source of much speculation and sturm und drang over the years, and he eagerly leaned into the controversy. He is famous for remarking
"The City and the Pillar," published in 1948, described the journey of a young man who discovers his homosexuality, and its overtly gay themes were considered exceptionally radical at the time - especially as Vidal set out to describe his protagonist as both masculine and normal, instead of as feminine, or as disingenuously transvestite.
For many young journalists and writers - present company included - his writings provided our first, halting acquaintance with a great political mind, funneled through his relatively easy-to-grok historical novels, including "Lincoln" and "Burr." Not every towering thinker is so easily approachable in one's early adolescence: for that especially, I suspect many of us thank him.
Many others of my Millennial ilk may recall him as the likely model for the haughty Brinker in "A Separate Peace," which almost all of us were encouraged to read. He is likely to experience something of a revival with his passing. I welcome it.
It is almost certainly best to let the man speak for himself. Here are some quotes.