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RIP: Gore Vidal, Sickle In The Garden Of Idiocy

 

NEW YORK TIMES: Mr. Vidal was, at the end of his life, an Augustan figure who believed himself to be the last of a breed, and he was probably right. Few American writers have been more versatile or gotten more mileage from their talent. He published some 25 novels, two memoirs and several volumes of stylish essays. He also wrote plays, television dramas and screenplays. For a while he was even a contract writer at MGM. And he could always be counted on for a spur-of-the-moment aphorism, putdown or sharply worded critique of American foreign policy. Perhaps more than any other American writer except Norman Mailer or Truman Capote, Mr. Vidal took great pleasure in being a public figure. He twice ran for office — in 1960, when he was the Democratic Congressional candidate for the 29th District in upstate New York, and in 1982, when he campaigned in California for a seat in the Senate — and though he lost both times, he often conducted himself as a sort of unelected shadow president. He once said, “There is not one human problem that could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.” Mr. Vidal loved conspiracy theories of all sorts, especially the ones he imagined himself at the center of, and he was a famous feuder; he engaged in celebrated on-screen wrangles with Mailer, Capote and William F. Buckley Jr. Mr. Vidal did not lightly suffer fools — a category that for him comprised a vast swath of humanity, elected officials especially — and he was not a sentimentalist or a romantic. “Love is not my bag,” he said. By the time he was 25, he had already had more than 1,000 sexual encounters with both men and women, he boasted in his memoir “Palimpsest.” Mr. Vidal tended toward what he called “same-sex sex,” but frequently declared that human beings were inherently bisexual, and that labels like gay (a term he particularly disliked) or straight were arbitrary and unhelpful. For 53 years, he had a live-in companion, Howard Austen, a former advertising executive, but the secret of their relationship, he often said, was that they had never slept together. MORE

THE INDEPENDENT: Like Oscar Wilde, he is celebrated for his epigrams, most famously: “Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.” Asked whether his first romantic encounter was homosexual or heterosexual, Vidal replied that he had been “too polite to ask”. His conversation is precise and mannered to a point that you suspect this is a man who may still crook a finger when he drinks champagne. He speaks with an archaic, aesthetic tone that can be contagious: there’s hardly an interview in his cuttings file where he doesn’t elicit the word “exquisite”. To encounter Vidal is to meet a man who, through his friendship with André Gide, is only one handshake removed from Wilde. His two extraordinary volumes of memoirs – Palimpsest (1995) and its sequel Point To Point Navigation, published in 2006 – recall friendships with Eleanor Roosevelt, Princess Margaret and Leonard Bernstein. He was close to John Kennedy and closer still to Jackie, a relative by marriage. “It is always a delicate matter,” he once wrote, “when a friend or acquaintance becomes president.” (“Oh we know, we know,” sigh his millions of readers.) A confidant of Tennessee Williams, he also frequented Christopher Isherwood, EM Forster, Albert Camus, Sartre, Anaïs Nin and William Faulkner. Vidal, who once wrote the line “Allen Ginsberg kissed my hand as Jean Genet looked on,” was briefly the lover of Jack Kerouac. With this in mind, when you read him asserting, in Palimpsest, that “I have never much enjoyed the company of writers,” it does seem necessary to add: “who are less famous than I am.” MORE

LOS ANGELES TIMES: “I am at heart a propagandist, a tremendous hater, a tiresome nag, complacently positive that there is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise,” he said in “Gore Vidal: A Biography” (1999) by Fred Kaplan. Despite his crushing forthrightness on many topics, Vidal preferred ambiguity in the personal realm. Vidal, who was never married and had no children, wrote in his memoirs about sexual contacts with men, including Kerouac, the Beat poet and writer. But, to the dismay of gay activists, Vidal rejected efforts to put him in any sexual category. He was famous for proclaiming that “there are not homosexual people, only homosexual acts.” MORE

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