RIP Gore Vidal, literary icon and political pot-stirrer

Celebrated essayist, provocative novelist, inspired scriptwriter… Gore Vidal, who died yesterday at the age of 86, was an integral element of the American cultural landscape he so often criticized. For more than 60 years, he stirred the artistic and political pot, writing more than 25 books and running for office twice (unsuccessfully).

His third novel, The City and the Pillar, was one of the first books to deal frankly and unapologetically with a gay protagonist; it created a scandal in 1948 among both the book-reading public and critics. (For all of those reasons it has become an important work in gay literature.)

Vidal was also well known for his TV appearances, including this infamous 1968 encounter with William Buckley that nearly came to blows:

In addition to writing screenplays including the Oscar-nominated SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER and the infamous Bob Guccione-produced CALIGULA, he had acting roles in several movies, including Federico Fellini’s ROMA, as well as BOB ROBERTS and GATTACA. His explicit, satirical novel MYRA BRECKENRIDGE — which took on everything from gender identity to Hollywood mores — was adapted into a disastrous 1970 movie starring Raquel Welch, Mae West, Rex Reed and a very young Farrah Fawcett. Vidal distanced himself from the production, calling it “awful,” but it has become a cult classic (and one of my personal favorites).

Vidal’s work and vision have remained relevant; his 1960 political drama The Best Man is currently enjoying a successful revival on Broadway. In 2005, Italian filmmaker Francesco Vezzoli created the five-minute Trailer for the Remake of Gore Vidal’s Caligula, which featured Vidal himself reclaiming his original screenplay; the video is now a part of the Guggenheim museum’s permanent collection.

“Trailer for the remake of Gore Vidal’s Caligula” by Francesco Vezzoli from pheel on Vimeo.

And his quips were legend; a number of them have been collected over at The Daily Beast. When Joanne Woodward presented Vidal at the 2009 National Book Awards, she relayed his reaction to becoming godfather to her and Paul Newman’s first child: “Always a godfather, never a god.”

Photo credit: Leonard McCombe/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images