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The vital force of Gore Vidal

Outspoken US author rubbed shoulders with the literary giants of his era, and banged heads with most of them.
Last modified: 2 Aug 2012 15:47
Photo by Reuters

The American writer, Gore Vidal, has died at his home in Hollywood. He was 86.

Vidal was a US literary giant whose work was filled with acerbic observations on US politics, sex and American culture. He was a commentator on American life long before cable TV, Facebook and Twitter gave everyone a platform. Over seven decades his writing has been credited with transforming the US social landscape.

Vidal rubbed shoulders with many of the great literary figures of his time, and banged heads with most of them.

He thought Ernest Hemingway was a joke. He called Truman Capote, "a filthy animal that has found its way into the House".

But Vidal also had the ear of presidents and politicians at the highest level in Washington. Although his politics leaned to the left, he would attack the Democratic Party over its stance on the Korean and Vietnam Wars. "Wars of imperial vanity," he called them.

His outspoken nature often led him to criticise many elements of modern American society - as during the crisis that followed the presidential election of 2000.

He was quoted as saying: "My cousin Albert GORE was elected president of the United States and the Supreme Court said he may not serve, yet he got 500,000 more votes than Mr Bush. This is plainly a country in great trouble, a country which is beginning to run amok."

Among Vidal's literary legacy was a series of historical novels, including "1876", based around the US civil war, and "Lincoln" about the country's 16th president.

His 1948 book, "The City and the Pillar," created an outcry - it was one of the first open portrayals of a homosexual main character. Bisexual himself, Vidal once boasted of sleeping with over 1,000 people by the age of 25.

In his later life he moved to Italy and became a celebrity appearing on TV talk shows - including Al Jazeera's daily Riz Khan Show - and even in gossip columns.

But with 25 books, over 200 essays and a handful of plays, it's likely Gore Vidal will be best remembered as a prolific author, essayist and member of the US literary elite.