American Chronicler Gore Vidal Dies at Age 86
He wrote more than 20 novels and appeared in a number of films.
Vidal in 2003 during an interview with the Los Angeles Times. (Los Angeles Times)
"All these literary prizes should go to the readers: 'Nobel Prize for the best reader in Milwaukee,'" he said. "And you know, we must honor them because they are so few."
But the truth is, Vidal, all his life, relished his role as provocateur, as an anti-establishmentarian, as a self-proclaimed conspiracy "analyst."
He was born Eugene Luther Gore Vidal on October 3, 1925.
His grandfather, T.P. Gore, helped write the state constitution of Oklahoma. His father, Eugene, played professional football, competed in decathlon in the Antwerp Olympics in 1920, and, as an aviator, was instrumental in expanding the U.S. aeronautics program.
And when his mother, Nina, remarried, Vidal shared a stepfather with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
He detested his mother ("drunks are not much to be around") and worshiped his grandfather, from whom he inherited his love for politics.
"He was blind, so from the age of 10, I was reading to him. From the congressional record, from American history, poetry," Vidal said. "He was very good, he was extraordinary, he was my education."
Unlike his father, Vidal showed no interest in sports and took to writing at age 14, joined the Navy at 17 and published his first novel, the World War II-themed "Williwaw," while on night watch in port at 19. It was well-received.
But it was his third novel, the coming-out tale "The City and the Pillar," that brought him notoriety at a time when homosexuality was still considered immoral.
"I sold a million copies and it caused much distress at the New York Times," he said.
The newspaper, along with others, would not review his future work, forcing Vidal, the pariah, to write mysteries under the pseudonym Edgar Box -- and to turn to Hollywood.
While not particularly enamored by it, he was good at churning out dramas for television.
He then took one of them, the science fiction political satire "Visit to a Small Planet," and successfully adapted it for Broadway. His other stage success came with "The Best Man," about two presidential contenders -- a revival of which is playing Broadway.
From the archives: Read an excerpt of 'The Golden Age'
Following his lucrative TV stint, Vidal returned to writing and produced three widely acclaimed novels that cemented his reputation as an internationally best-selling author: Julian (1964), about the Roman emperor who wanted to restore paganism; Washington, D. C. (1967), the first of his fictional chronicles of American history; and Myra Breckinridge (1968), a satirical treatise on transexualism.
At the same time he published prolifically in magazines his critiques on politics, religion and sexuality.
"I would say that since 1945, the United States, which was absolutely the 'mandate of heaven,' as Confucius would say, had fallen upon us," he told CNN in 2007. "The world was ours. ... We'd lost it all. So, my war against American imperialism is my largest."
Steers, Vidal's nephew, did not elaborate on funeral arrangements for the author, only saying that the family asks people to donate to the Alzheimer's Association instead of sending flowers.
Vidal said in the CNN interview he wants to be cremated and then have his ashes placed at Rockcreek Cemetery in Washington. The remains of his partner of five decades, Howard Austen, rests there.
Austen died in 2003.
"We share a plot, and I'll be there," Vidal said. "And I'll be looking forward to seeing him."