Queer Man Of Letters—And Words—Gore Vidal Dead At 86

A voice for the LGBT community before there was such a thing, author, playwright, polemicist and would-be politician Gore Vidal died of complication from pneumonia in his Hollywood Hills home Tuesday night. He was 86.

For more than six decades, Vidal released a staggering output of words—in books, essays, plays and notorious public statements. His first tome was published when Vidal was just 19, but made his reputation on later historical novels like  Burr, Hollywood, Lincoln, 1876 and The Golden Age.

He also wrote for the stage: A revival of his 1960 play, The Best Man, is currently running on Broadway with an all-star cast that includes Angela Lansbury, Candice Bergen and James Earl Jones.

Vidal brought the subject of homosexuality to the forefront even when America wasn’t ready to deal with it: When E.P. Dutton published The City and the Pillar, Vidal’s 1948 novel about the coming of age of a young gay man, many outlets refused to review or advertise it, and Vidal was blacklisted for years after.

Of course, Vidal’s potent personality always threatened to overshadow his artistic output:

Mr. Vidal was arguably best known to the public for his many public spats with fellow writers. Over the years, he openly feuded (and seemed to relish it) with the likes of Norman Mailer, Truman Capote and William F. Buckley Jr.

Part of this tendency may have been fueled by envy. “Every time a friend succeeds,” he once said, “I die a little.”

Rest in peace, Mr. Vidal.

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  • miKem

    No matter what you may have thought of Mr Vidal, he was one of the prime movers of the freedoms we all experience today in the Gay & Lesbian world. The City and the Pillar, brought our issues forward in society with dignity and beauty. And he brought it forward in one of the worse times for our people, the Great American Fear of the 1950’s. God Bless Gore Vidal, he remains one of my personal heroes.

  • Thomathy

    A great man has been lost. Not just a tireless voice for the LGBT community, Gore Vidal was a tireless voice for Atheists, Humanists and Rationalists. During his last years he was the honorary president of the Amarican Humanist Association. He was among the last of America’s great intellectuals and it is a sad day indeed that he is dead. His accomplishments and his lifelong goals, hopefully, will not merely be resigned to history. I hope he life’s work is carried forward, for it remains relevant to the US and the world at large, considering the current climate of the world politically and religiously in regards to LGBT and atheist people.

    (meta: Queerty, his humanism and atheism were (arguably are) immensely important aspects of this man, he was an advocate for humanist and atheist issues. It’s a disservice to his memory to leave out facts about the man that he himself clearly considered rather integral, at least as integral as being gay and likely more so.)

  • Thomathy

    miKem, Gore Vidal wouldn’t want your God to bless him or empty platitudes wished for him. He was not a believer.

  • Gareth

    Whilst people lavish their praise on Vidal for LGBT issues, didnt he openly sympathize
    with Timothy Mcveigh (the Oklahoma bomber) ????

  • Tony Konrath

    It’s been said that Gore Vidal was possibly the best president tat America never had.

  • Truth Wins

    Very sad day. He was one of our best. :(

  • Tom

    @Thomathy: I am a huge fan of Gore Vidal but I do not think he was a tireless voice for the LGBT community. He was at odds with the entire idea of self identifying as Gay let alone being a voice for anyone but himself. I certainly agree with much of what you said though. He will be missed.

  • Codswallop

    Rainbow flags should be at half mast today.


    Gore Vidal wrote about homosexuality in 1948 when people did NOT talk about such things, and his book “The City And The Pillar” was one of the first where homosexuality itself wasn’t The Problem and the main character didn’t die at the end. He helped begin the conversation about gays, which is still going on.

    He could be cranky and frustrating but we all owe him a debt. Rest in peace, Mr Vidal. You left the world a better place than you found it.

  • BD

    He was the most genteel yet outspoken bisexualist ever!

  • Codswallop

    @BD: Not to nit-pick, but do we have any confirmation Gore Vidal was BIsexual, other than his own testimony? I always suspected he said that because people of his generation saw being fully gay as shameful and claimed bisexuality to imply they were still “all man.”

  • Belize

    @Gareth: Of course he was. Unfortunately, for his critics, that does not negate the things he’s done especially since I doubt his “sympathy” had an effect more resounding than his literature.

    Anyway, thank you, sir. :)

  • DrewSF

    Codswallop-Yes he was bisexual, he had a relationship with Anais Nin.

  • GreatGatsby2011

    Today the light of rationalism shines a little less brightly. You will be missed, Mr. Vidal.

  • Darling Nikki

    @codswallop, he also had a relationship with Joanne Woodward, and remained friends with her when she married Paul Newman.

  • Darling Nikki

    He is a major influence for me. One need not agree with everything he said but he made you question or think about your stance on issues. He wouldn’t allow a cop-out rationale.
    He was a pioneer. A proud contrarian, and we know we could use more devil’s advocates like him around to debunk the Paul Ryans, Newt Gingriches, Karl Roves of the world.

    His position of not labelling himself was out of a position that he didn’t want the crutch or the baggage many labels cloud on any debate. He was clearly not a closet case nor ashamed of his attractions and lived boldly and unapologetically.
    A real pioneer who will be missed.

  • EvonCook

    Gore Vidal was not fond of the “gay” label, believing and stating instead, correctly, that we all are bisexual even if he did recognize and admit he was more homosexual, by far favoring men. He also enjoyed sex with numerous, in fact prodigious numbers of people and joked that aside from his one true idealized love from school days, the success of his greatest longtime relationship was that sex was not involved.
    However he identified himself publicly, he certainly did not put up with the “lgtb” nonsense and never accepted putting lesbians before gay men for some ridiculous guilt trip about “invisibility” which he said was disproved on a historical and daily basis. The fact that lesbians were not abused or addressed by the laws and legal statutes aimed against homosexuality has been turned on its head by those who claim to feel so left out that they now must come first–curiously, just as ladies have been conditioned to believe in the straight world. He joked that lesbianism might have been invented for the erotic thrill of straight men, which is exactly why they are so much more acceptable and not “invisible.” Like many of us he saw pc “lgbt” as a spin-backed power-grab, and agreed with me that homosexual men and lesbians are two very distinct communities which share a lot of common interests and goals, should or could be friends, but that they were intrinsically very different, and that there was no reason to let the lesser one dominate the other, especially when historically, financially, numerically , even alphabetically and every other which way, gay men are in the forefront. He also pointedly asked how many men did you ever see heading up a women’s organization, yet women demand parity in almost every gay organization and even take over their administrations. Actually, Gore Vidal was more than a great gay man, he was one of those great men whose sense of self and style, whose intellectual powers, perceptions, creativity, and whose proven greatness made his mark everywhere he went, and by his life forwarded the image and stature potential for all gay men.

  • joe

    Gore Vidal, one smart dude, even after the berlin wall fell he continued to believe in some form of warmed over marxism when the rest of the world, including china moved on to the free market.

  • joe

    @GreatGatsby2011: How can Vidal be described as rational when he held such marxist type views. A rational person would have seen long ago that marxism doesn’t work.

  • joe

    @miKem: Vidal was an ally to gays in capitolist countries, but if you were gay and living behind the iron curtain Vidal could not be seen as an ally.

  • joe

    @Thomathy: Oh he was a believer! His god was Karl Marx.

  • Jase

    Sad day. “Myra Breckinridge” is one of my favorite books of all time

  • David Ehrenstein

    @Gareth: No. He corresponded with McVeigh when he discovered he knew quite a lot about American history. This fascinated Vidal as McVeigh had been presented as a random crazy.

    He wasn’t random at all. He was quite singular — and therefore even more disturbing.

  • GreatGatsby2011

    @joe: That’s your opinion and, like a certain orifice, everyone has one. Congratulations.

  • EvonCook

    @joe: Well, if you have to believe in something, at least Karl Marx is something real. Further Karl Marx and his philosophy, theories and views are hardly the demonic nonsense that McCarthy and hysterical American cold warriors, Reagan among them, twisted and made them out to be, nor are they what came to be known as the Soviet Union. That is about as similar as what Jesus is supposed to have been like and preached compared to the manifestation of the Institution of the Catholic Church.

  • Jerry6

    A man of his time. He is sorely missed.

  • the other Greg

    To anyone who’s never read his fiction and is curious, I’ll say try “Julian” (ancient Rome) or “Burr” (about our 3rd vice president) and see what you think.

    @EvonCook: Supposedly a reporter once asked him who he had sex with first, a man or a woman, and he said “I was too polite to ask.”

    But I recall he actually liked the word “homosexualist” (ugh, and he must have been the only one), a rare example of clunky coinage from him. Maybe he explained it in an essay that I didn’t see, but his dislike of the term “gay” never caught on since if anything it CAN be more general and inclusive, and that seemed to be his main concern.

  • hephaestion

    We have lost one of the greats.
    Vidal cut thru the bullshit of American life better than anyone else.
    He was amusing, brilliant, and dashing. Everyone should read his books and also listen to the many interviews with him that are available on YouTube.

  • Chuck

    Too many of his friends succeeded…

  • hephaestion

    Joe, Vidal was not a Marxist. Not even close. You evidently have not read one word of any of his books or other writings.

  • Brandon

    @EvonCook-Actually Gore Vidal was bisexual as others have already posted about, he was not gay or a gay man.

  • Jim DeBlasio

    He used to tell me all kinds of egocentric stuff, but he was curious and interested in practically everything. I remember many long conversations over glasses of MacAllan Whisky mixed with a little water, he picked everyone’s brain for ideas and leads on information. I never met Howard Austen, and Vidal never met my late partner either. Nor did I meet his researcher, he had at least one person working full time year after year looking up facts and figures and ferreting out information. I always imagined I’d see him one more time, now he’s gone. I didn’t like everything he wrote, and in fact haven’t read all of his books, but he was a huge influence on my young personality. I was only about 27 when I first encountered him by chance south of the airport while he was working on Lincoln.

  • Pazul

    Truly a great. RIP, Gore.

  • joe

    @GreatGatsby2011: I don’t get it. If being a rational thinker means that my views are nothing more than my opinion, then what is so special about being a rational thinker?

  • joe

    @EvonCook: This is the big problem with Gore Vidal’s generation of liberals. They see Joe McCarthy as a more sinister figure than the communists. This is not rational thinking. Joseph Stalin killed millions of people, Joe McCarthy killed not one person. To see McCarthy as the more sinister figure is not rational thinking.

  • joe

    @hephaestion: I have read alot of his political essay and it is true he never called himself a marxist. I describe him as a warmed over marxist because i believe his beliefs came close to that. I don’t know how anyone could listen to or read Gore Vidal without seeing a resemblance to marxism.

  • GreatGatsby2011

    @joe: Your comment showed no rational thought, therefore it is an opinion. Clearly state your argument using facts and not rhetoric and perhaps it would be worthy of a decent response. Until then it’s simply an opinion, a big gaping shit-caked opinion.

  • David Ehrenstein

    @Jim DeBlasio: I met Howard and he was utterly delightful. Back in the 90s when they were still living in Italy, Gore would make an annual pilgrimage to L.A. to adreess The Writer’s Guild. Howard came with him. I gave hiom a cassette tape I’d made of Harold Lang singing various musical numbers — whcih enormously amused Howard.

  • The Real Mike in Asheville

    @the other Greg: Most don’t realize that Burr, Lincoln and 1876 are a trilogy. While I truly enjoyed Burr, I thought both Lincoln and 1876 were more in depth getting into the minds of the main cast of characters (and characters is the correct term as Vidal created fictionalized histories). Also, Vidal’s humor and wit is more finely tuned in books two and three.

  • The Real Mike in Asheville

    @David Ehrenstein: “… an ally in spite of himself.” a very astute and well stated observation — well done.

  • alphabetsoup

    A grandiose nelly old self-proclaimed bisexual, talented but tiresome.

  • EvonCook

    @the other Greg: Did you not read my comment #16??? What are you saying that makes sense to that?

  • EvonCook

    @alphabetsoup: We can only guess that you have a very short attention span, very small horizons, little experience and even less sense of history, some pathetic social appraisal skills and are a pretty plain Jane with that comment.

  • DrewSF

    ABCSoup-Yeah Gore Vidal was bisexual, so what?

Comments are closed.