American writer Gore Vidal, whose work spanned the fields of literature, theater, politics, and beyond, died of complications from pneumonia in Los Angeles yesterday. He was 86.
In his writing, Vidal embraced controversial topics. His second novel, The City and the Pillar, was the story of an openly gay man. Published in 1948, the novel is credited as the first book in modern literature to depict a gay character without punishing him or killing him off.
The literary world shunned him after The City and the Pillar, with critics at The New York Times and other publications refusing to review his books. But Vidal's talent outlasted their resolve. He moved on to write television screenplays and, eventually, stage plays, before returning to with historical works including Burr, Lincoln, and Julian.
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Many believe Vidal's true talent lay in writing essays, which showcased both his inimitable writing style and informed interest of politics and history. He was a relentless critic of the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush administrations. In 2001, he also wrote an in-depth and sympathetic Vanity Fair story about Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, with whom he'd begun a pen pal relationship.
An early champion of sexual freedom, Vidal had affairs with both men and women, and maintained that all people are born bisexual. His social circle contained such impressive names as Anais Nin, Orson Welles, Truman Capote, Marlon Brando, and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Brutally honest, complex, and impossible to categorize, Vidal spent his life masterfully expressing and defending his opinions, and changing the world in the process.