Millennium Post

Livin’ La Vidal

US novelist Gore Vidal, an iconoclastic commentator on American life and history in works like Lincoln and Myra Breckenridge, has died at age of 86. His nephew Burr Steers said that he died at his home in the Hollywood Hills on Tuesday due to pneumonia. He was one of the giants of a generation of American writers that included Norman Mailer and Truman Capote, as well known for his flamboyant social and sexual life and trenchant political views as for his novels. He wrote 25 novels, essays, Broadway hits and screenplays.


The man who did not ‘give a damn’ is no more. At 86, Gore Vidal, who wore the tag ‘iconoclast’ with a panache, died of complications from pneumonia. According to his nephew, Burr Steers, he had been suffering from heart ailments for sometime now.

Vidal was a prolific writer. He wrote 25 novels, two successful Broadway plays, numerous screenplays, more than 200 essays and a memoir called Palimpsest.

Vidal had a way of telling his tales. But more than his novels, his essays, apparently, had more bite in them. Author Martin Amis is supposed to have gone on record that when it comes to his essays, even Gore’s ‘blind spots are illuminating’. He peppered them with anecdotes from life – only, his life entwined itself with the who’s who of the world. Jack Kerouac. Frank Sinatra. Marlon Brando. Paul Newman. The Kennedys. He didn’t spare even his mother, according to him she had a ‘long-on-and-off’ affair with Clark Gable. He is also related to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis by marriage – his mother married Jackie’s stepfather.

That his foes took their woes public made him all the more delectable. So when Truman Capote said he was very sad that Gore ‘has to breathe everyday’, Vidal added another layer to his image, that of a ‘imperious gadfly’.

Not that he minced words when it came to putting people in place. Ask George Bush, he should know: when the world [as in America] was going the ‘righteous’ way post 11 September 2001, he brushed all that aside with one sentence: ‘Bush is incompetent’ [he apparently elaborated further, but Vanity Fair refused to publish the essay].

Gore took up writing when he was only 14, and got his work published when he was 19. That his paternal grandfather, Thomas Gore, had serious connections in politics – who incidentally helped write the state constitution of Oklahoma – might or might not have helped him in getting the publishers' attention. But he got his readers' attention for good with his third novel – the controversial
The City and the Pillar,
in which he introduced his openly gay character to the shocked United States in 1948. It took another decade and more for the gay liberation movement to catch up. Of course, his book sold. And Vidal obviously took delight both in being a hot-seller and a shocker. ‘I sold a million copies and it caused much distress at the New York Times.

When he started appearing in films and talk shows, he had to face yet another tag. Narcissist. He took that with a shrug: ‘Some writers take to drink, others take to audiences.’ Touche.

Here’s to Vidal, who is surely rocking the after-world, too.
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