Gore Vidal Is Dead

Born to power, Vidal was one of America’s leading writers, wits and provocateurs for half a century. A combative voice on the left, Vidal — who had affairs with men and women — also was among the first American novelists to write unapologetically of gay love and sex.

“Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.”

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In Christopher Bram’s Eminent Outlaws, a new book that traces the lives of gay writers of the past century, he leads off his book with the story of Vidal’s return from World War II:

The second atom bomb fell on Nagasaki, the war ended, and nineteen-year-old Eugene Gore Vidal came home to New York. The boyish prep school graduate had served as a warrant officer on an army ship in the Aleutians, a sort of seagoing sergeant. He was now stationed out on Long Island before being discharged. He brought with him a manuscript he had begun writing in training camp, a Hemingway-like novel titled Williwaw about shipboard life.

He spent his weekends in the city …. There he met other men in uniform in the male-only half of the busy bar at the Astor hotel or at the movie theaters crowded along Forty-second Street. … He would later insist that the only man he ever loved was a classmate at St. Albans, Jimmie Trimble, who died on Iwo Jima.

Later in the book, Bram quotes from the most memorable night of the 1968 debates between Vidal and conservative editor William F. Buckley, which fell on the night that the violence of the Chicago police and protesters at the Democratic National Convention had been broadcast across the nation:

The Vidal-Buckley Debates

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Vidal’s Burr: “Our people have always preferred legend to reality—as I know best of all, having become one of the dark legends of the republic, and hardly real.”

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Buckley, who died earlier this year, and Vidal continued fighting — sometimes in court — throughout the remainder of their years.

Throughout much of that time, he was living with — or apart — from his companion of half a century. As The Independent’s Robert Chalmers detailed in an extensive interview in 2008:

Vidal moved … to this mansion in the Hollywood Hills, in 2003, because of its proximity to the Cedars-Sinai hospital. Howard Austen, his companion of 53 years, died of cancer in the same year. The two men had spent the previous 25 years in Ravello, near Naples, at Vidal’s spectacular villa, La Rondinaia (The Swallow’s Nest.)

In The New York Times, the obituary of Vidal tonight captures one of the last moments between the two:

Mr. Vidal recalled that Mr. Austen asked from his deathbed, “Didn’t it go by awfully fast?”

“The United States was founded by the brightest people in the country — and we haven’t seen them since.”

Writer Gore Vidal is pictured at the “2005 Literary Awards” hosted by PEN USA in Los Angeles in November 9, 2005. MARIO ANZUONI / Reuters

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