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.
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.