Gore Vidal Dies at 86

Gore Vidal Dies at 86

Gore Vidal, an iconic writer and outspoken political activist, died Tuesday in Los Angeles. He was 86.

Vidal's family made the announcement Tuesday, leaving a brief message his official website and Twitter account. His nephew, Burr Steers, told The New York Times that he died from complications of pneumonia.

A novelist, essayist, playwright and screenwriter, Vidal was a leading political liberal voice from the 1950s and forward; he ran for Congress in New York in 1960, and the U.S. Senate in California in 1982. Once a writer for MGM, he earned fame for his satirical novels, including Myra Breckenridge, which, with its transexual themes, was a highly controversial and groundbreaking work when published in 1968. Earlier, his The City and the Pillar was one of the first novels to deal openly with homosexuality, in 1948. It was dedicated to Jimmie Trimble, the love of Vidal's life, who died at Iwo Jima in World War II. The New York Times refused to review the book.

Born to a politically connected family -- his father served in the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt, while his mother was once married to Hugh Auchincloss, who, while a Republican, was later Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' stepfather -- Vidal grew up in Washington, DC, and after attending Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, enlisted in the US Army as a Private, serving in World War II.

His on-air fight with William F. Buckley during the 1968 Democratic National Convention became the stuff of legend. He also took on Ayn Rand in a famous column for Esquire. In fact, it was his essays that earned him the most fame. A writer for The New York Review of Books, among many other publications, Vidal would win the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 1993 for his collection, United States: 1952-1992. In all, he published 25 novels, two memoirs and volumes of essays.

His play, The Best Man, is currently being staged in revival on Broadway. Both Best Man and an earlier play, A Visit to a Small Planet, were made into hit films. He wrote the screenplays for a pair of Tennessee Williams adaptations: Suddenly Last Summer (1959), which featured Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor in Oscar-nominated roles; and Sidney Lumet's Last of the Mobile Hot Shots (1970).

In more recent years, Vidal continued to write on political themes, and advocated the impeachment of President George W. Bush.

Two of his plays, 1957's Visit to a Small Planet and 1960's The Best Man, were successes on Broadway and on film.

Vidal wrote Visit to a Small Planet as a television play, then reworked it two years later for the Broadway stage, where it debuted in February 1957 and became a critical hit.

A satire on the post-World War II fear of Communism and McCarthyism in the U.S., it starred Cyril Ritchard on stage and Jerry Lewis in the 1960 film as an alien intending to visit Earth for the Civil War but errantly lands 100 years later.

The Best Man became a 1964 film starring Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson as backstabbing candidates from the same party vying for the ex-president's endorsement. The play, which ran for 520 performances, starred Melvyn Douglas in the Fonda role and Frank Lovejoy in the Robertson role.

Vidal also wrote the screenplays for a pair of Tennessee Williams adaptations -- 1959's Suddenly Last Summer, starring best actress Oscar nominees Elizabeth Taylor and Katharine Hepburn, and Sidney Lumet's Last of the Mobile Hot Shots (1970), with James Coburn and Lynn Redgrave.

His 1968 novel Myra Breckinridge, written in the form of a diary, became the bizarre 1970 film comedy that starred Raquel Welsh, John Huston and Mae West in her penultimate movie.

His teleplay for The Left-Handed Gun became a 1958 film directed by first-time helmer Arthur Penn and starred Paul Newman as Billy the Kid (he also played the role on TV).

Vidal also wrote the original draft for the pornographic 1979 film Caligula but had his name removed when the script was rewritten by director Tinto Brass and star Malcolm McDowell.

Vidal, who was briefly engaged to actress Joanne Woodward, Newman's future wife, had a cameo in Federico Fellini's Roma (1972) and voiced himself on TV's The Simpsons and Family Guy. He played a senator in Bob Roberts (1992) and had small roles in the films With Honors (1994), Gattaca (1997), Igby Goes Down (2002) — directed by his nephew, Burr Steers -- and Shrink (2009).