Gore Vidal, Cultural Icon, Dies

Gore Vidal, the author and playwright who was considered one of the intellectual giants of the second half of the 20th century, has died at 86.

BY Jeremy Kinser

August 01 2012 10:09 AM ET

Gore Vidal, the author, playwright, and political commentator who was considered one of the intellectual giants of the second half of the 20th century, has died at 86, reports New York Times.

His death from pneumonia at his Los Angeles home was confirmed by his nephew Burr Steels. Although Vidal outraged mainstream critics as one of the first major American writers to describe and embrace unambiguous homosexuality, he resisted being labeled as gay, saying there was no such thing as a homosexual person, only homosexual acts.

Born into a wealthy political family, Vidal first gained widespread public attention in 1948, with the publication of his novel The City and the Pillar, considered a landmark for its frank depiction of an openly gay character. He would write 25 novels, including the satiric best seller Myra Breckinridge, about a transexual woman, caused a sensation for its subject matter. It was turned into a 1970 film, which Vidal intensely disliked. 

Vidal, who did an uncredited rewrite on the epic Ben-Hur. He later spoke about the homosexual subtext he added to the screenplay. Vidal also made his mark on Broadway by writing the scathing drama The Best Man, about the machinations behind a fictional presidential election. The play was revived with an all-star cast last winter and is currently being performed through September.

With his keen intellect and acerbic wit, Vidal relished being a public figure and was a frequent guest on television talk shows. One of the most notorious episodes from his colorful life is a 1968 TV appearance opposite conservative William F. Buckley, who yelled at him, "Now listen, you queer. Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi, or I'll sock you in the goddamn face and you'll stay plastered."

Vidal twice ran unsuccessfully for political office: for Congress in Upstate New York in 1960 and for the Senate in California in 1982.

In recent years Vidal displayed the lighter side of his personality and voiced himself on episodes of The Simpsons and Family Guy.

During a CNN interview Vidal said he wants to be buried next to his partner of five decades, Howard Austen, who died in 2003. "We share a plot, and I'll be there," Vidal said. "And I'll be looking forward to seeing him."

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