American Chronicler Gore Vidal Dies at Age 86
LOS ANGELES -- Gore Vidal, the eclectic author who faithfully chronicled the major shifts and upheavals in the United States in books, essays and plays, has died. He was 86.

Vidal died at his Los Angeles home Tuesday evening of complications from pneumonia, his nephew Burr Steers said. The author had also been suffering from heart ailments.

Widely hailed as one of America's greatest man of letters, Vidal was a high-profile commentator on politics, including his bitter opposition to the war in Iraq.

Born into politics as the member of a rich and powerful family, he joined the Navy at 17 before shocking the world by writing one of the first novels to include an openly gay character: his 1948 work, "The City and the Pillar."

In all, he wrote some 25 novels, two successful Broadway plays, numerous screenplays, more than 200 essays and the memoir "Palimpsest." His collection of essays, "United States: Essays, 1952-1992" won the National Book Award in 1993.

Vidal also appeared in a number of films including the political satire, "Bob Roberts" where he played a U.S. Senator.

He himself ran for office in upstate New York in 1960, calling for the recognition of Communist China, and later made a bid for the Senate from California in 1982, which became the subject of a documentary.

Throughout his life, Vidal didn't shy away from controversy -- either actively courting it or inviting it through his acerbic one-liners.

He riled the right by saying the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks occurred because the Bush administration was "incompetent" and Bush himself was "inactive and inopportune." Vanity Fair refused to publish an essay he wrote reflecting on the tragedy.

He ruffled others by befriending convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and saying he understood "why he did what he did." The more they communicated, the more impressed he was by McVeigh, Vidal said.

His book, "Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace: How We Got to Be So Hated" takes the position that both attacks were provoked by "our government's reckless assaults upon other societies."

A firestorm of criticism followed.

"I've had hard targets in my lifetime, I've taken on general superstitions, but that's what writers do. So I certainly, wouldn't have changed my modus vivendi one bit," he said of the furor.

In the latter stages of his life, Vidal often appeared on the television talk show circuit, going head to head with those with opposing view points -- and gave as good as he got.

He once compared author Norman Mailer to the infamous killer Charles Manson, which prompted Mailer to headbutt him before a show.

Author Truman Capote once said he was felt sad about Gore, "very sad that he has to breathe every day."

And in a live TV debate, conservative author and journalist, William F. Buckley Jr. famously called him "queer." To be fair, Vidal had called him a "crypto-Nazi" first.

"Well, I mean I won the debates, there was no question of that," Vidal recounted in a CNN interview in 2007. "They took polls, it was ABC Television... And because I'm a writer, people think that I'm this poor little fragile thing. I'm not poor and fragile. ... And anybody who insults me is going to get it right back."

He also voiced himself on the animated show "The Simpsons."