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Gore Vidal dies aged 86

1st August 2012

Gore Vidal, the outspoken novelist, playwright, essayist and political commentator, has died at the age of 86.

Throughout his distinguished career, Vidal published 25 novels and more than 200 essays, as well as writing eight plays and the screenplays for 14 films.

His most famous work is arguably The City and the Pillar, a novel that outraged critics when it was published in 1948 for its unambiguous references to homosexuality, but represented something of a literary landmark by not killing off the main character for supposedly defying social norms.

After being ostracised for much of the 1950s and forced to write under pseudonyms, Vidal reverted to using his own name when reworking the screenplay for the 1959 film Ben-Hur.

Though the production would go on to win a record 11 Academy Awards, it controversially missed out on the gong for Best Adapted Screenplay, after the Screen Writers Guild failed to recognise Vidal as the co-writer.

Vidal wrote three novels in the 1960s – Julian, about the apostate Roman emperor, Washington D.C., focusing on a political family during the Franklin D. Roosevelt presidency, and the satirical transsexual comedy Myra Breckinridge, which would become one of his most beloved works.

His increasing literary influence led to his social circle expanding significantly in the 1960s to include some of the most famous and powerful people in the world, ranging from Orson Welles and Tennessee Williams to Frank Sinatra and Jackie Kennedy, who was also his stepsister.

Vidal was perhaps best renowned for his essays and was regarded by many as the finest essayist of the 20th century.

His willingness to criticise the American political system without fear of rebuke gained him many supporters, but garnered an equal number of critics, who felt his influence undermined the regimes he condemned.

Nevertheless, in 1993 he won the National Book Award for non-fiction for his acclaimed collection United States: Essays 1952–1992.

Vidal's influence in the political sphere almost extended further than literature, as he ran for a seat in Congress in both 1960 and 1982, but was unsuccessful on each occasion.

He will be remembered for his unflinching support of gay rights and, though he had relationships with both men and women throughout his life, Vidal's long-time partner was Howard Austen, who he met in 1950 and remained with until Austen's death in 2003.

Vidal died at home in California on July 31st, of complications from pneumonia.

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