Gore Vidal, the acclaimed novelist, essayist and author of the Tony-nominated play The Best Man, died on July 31 at his home in Los Angeles of complications from pneumonia. He was 86.
Vidal’s prolific writing career spanned more than 60 years and included the novels The City and the Pillar, Julian, Myra Breckinridge, Burr, Kalki, 1876, Lincoln, Empire, Hollywood and The Golden Age, among others. He was also a celebrated essayist, with pieces that were collected in the National Book Award-winning volume United States: Essays 1952-1992 and later The Last Empire.
As a playwright, Vidal was represented on Broadway with the hit political drama The Best Man (first produced in 1960 and currently being revived at the Schoenfeld Theatre), A Visit to a Small Planet (1955) and the short-lived comedies Weekend (1968) and An Evening With Richard Nixon and… (1972).
For the big screen, Vidal adapted Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer in 1959, was a script doctor on Ben Hur and wrote screenplay versions of his racy novel Myra Breckinridge (starring Raquel Welch as a transsexual), A Catered Affair (later adapted into a Broadway musical), Caligula, an Emmy-nominated script for the TV movie Dress Gray and more.
Born on October 3, 1925, in West Point, NY, Eugene Louis Vidal took the name “Gore” at his 1938 christening. The grandson of U.S. senator Thomas Gore and stepbrother of Jacqueline Kennedy, Vidal grew up in Washington DC among politicians and became an outspoken liberal. He launched his writing career in 1946 at age 19 with the novel Williwaw, based on his experiences in the Army during World War II.
Vidal was a rare writer who achieved mainstream fame for his always quotable appearances on talk shows, his forays into politics (including an unsuccessful run for Congress), his feuds with other writers (notably William F. Buckley and Norman Mailer) and his celebrity friends. He was openly gay at a time when few others were, and enjoyed a 50-year relationship with Howard Austen, until Austen’s death in 2003.
Vidal is survived by his half-sister Nina Straight and half brother Tommy Auchincloss.