American author, playwright, screenwriter, essayist, and political activist Gore Vidal, 86, passed away this Tuesday in his Los Angeles home. His nephew, writer and film director Burr Steers declared the cause was by complications of pneumonia and that Vidal had been sick for “quite a while.”
Vidal was born in West Point, New York, the only child to his father 1st Lieutenant Eugene Luther Vidal and his mother, a socialite, Nina Gore. His father was a former West Point football stars as well as an aviator instructor in military academy. He worked for the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Air Commerce during the Roosevelt administration and was the famed lover of Amelia Earhart. Vidal’s mother, Nina, divorced her husband in 1935 and went on to marry twice more. From his parents marriages, he gained half-siblings, his later nephews including the late artist Hugh Auchinloss Steers. Vidal was raised in Washington D.C. though he went on to study in France, not before returning to the United States during the outbreak of World War II where he served the U.S. Army as a private. Vidal also was a distant cousin of former Vice President Al Gore, whom he avoided, as he claimed, “on the ground that one day plausible deniability will be useful to each of us.”
His awards include the National Book Award in 1993 for United States: Essays 1952-1992 and the National Book Critics Circle Awardfor criticism in 1982 for The Second American Revolution and Other Essays. In 2009, he received a national lifetime achievement award at the National Book Awards.
He was one of the first major American writers to describe and embrace unambiguous homosexuality with his third novel, The City and the Pillar. In another book, he wrote about issues dealing with transexuality and pornography. Vidal was known for having affairs with both men and women. He resisted being labeled as gay by stating that there was no such thing as a homosexual person, only homosexual acts. In his second memoir novel, Point to Point Navigation, Vidal wrote about the illness and death of his longtime partner Howard Austen. They lived together in Italy for more than 30 years.
Vidal’s political perceptions were just as prominent as his writing. As outlined in a New York Times piece, “Some of his political positions were similarly quarrelsome and provocative. Mr. Vidal was an outspoken critic of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, and once called Norman Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary, and his wife, the journalist Midge Decter, ‘Israeli Fifth Columnists.’ In the 1990s he wrote sympathetically about Timothy McVeigh, who was executed for the Oklahoma City bombing. And after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he wrote an essay for Vanity Fair arguing that America had brought the attacks upon itself by maintaining imperialist foreign policies. In another essay, for The Independent, he compared the attacks to the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor, arguing that both Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and George W. Bush knew of them in advance and exploited them to advance their agendas.”
He once described the United States as “the land of the dull and the home of the literal” and referred to himself as the “gentleman bitch.” He gave reflective insights on literature, sexuality, politics, and pop culture. He starred in movies and attempted to run for office—a mesh between the lush aristocratic life he was born into versus the passion he held for governmental affairs. He argued sharply with intellectual rivals such as Willian F. Buckley Jr. and Normal Mailer. Yet his rugged tenacity combined with his unyielding sense of realistic eloquence makes him a memorable, iconic figure. He was a man with no qualms about holding back in his participation of the human experience.
In Vidal’s own words, “Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.”
Image Source LA Times