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Author, playwright, essayist Gore Vidal dies at 86

“Every four years the naive half who vote are encouraged to believe that if we can elect a really nice man or woman President everything will be all right. But it won’t be.” It would have been interesting to hear what Gore Vidal had to say about the eventual winner of the 2012 U.S. presidential election, but sadly for those of us who appreciated his acerbic wit and apparent willingness to enter any argument, no matter how contentious, the famously witty and erudite author has died of complications from pneumonia.

Vidal was the author of the bestselling novels Myra Breckenridge, Lincoln, and Burr, among many others. His memoir Palimpsest appeared in 1995, and his selected essays were collected in the mammoth 1993 volume United States, which won its author the National Book Award.

The CBC website has an Associated Press obituary that refers to Vidal “ along with contemporaries Norman Mailer (whom Vidal once suggested shared views on women that were similar to those of Charles Manson) and Truman Capote “ as the last of a generation of celebrity authors who were household names even to those who hadn’t read them. From the AP:

[H]e was widely admired as an independent thinker ” in the tradition of Mark Twain and H.L. Mencken ” about literature, culture, politics and, as he liked to call it, “the birds and the bees.” He picked apart politicians, living and dead; mocked religion and prudery; opposed wars from Vietnam to Iraq and insulted his peers like no other, once observing that the three saddest words in the English language were “Joyce Carol Oates.” (The happiest words: “I told you so.”)

Vidal was also famous for saying, “Never miss an opportunity to have sex or appear on television,” advice he heeded himself (at least its second half). From The New York Times:

Mr. Vidal was an occasional actor, appearing, for example, in animated form on The Simpsons and Family Guy, in the movie version of his own play The Best Man, and in the Tim Robbins movie Bob Roberts, in which he played an aging, epicene version of himself. He was a more than occasional guest on TV talk shows, where his poise, wit, looks and charm made him such a regular that Johnny Carson offered him a spot as a guest host of The Tonight Show.

Television was a natural medium for Mr. Vidal, who in person was often as cool and detached as he was in his prose. Gore is a man without an unconscious, his friend the Italian writer Italo Calvino once said. Mr. Vidal said of himself: I’m exactly as I appear. There is no warm, lovable person inside. Beneath my cold exterior, once you break the ice, you find cold water.