Gore Vidal, the American literary polymath whose novel The City and the Pillar (1948) was one of the first US novels to openly and unambiguously feature homosexuality, has died at the age of 86. He suffered complications from pneumonia.
Vidal was born in 1925 into a family of considerable privilege. His father was a figure in the government of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and his mother was a theatre actress. After joining the US Army at the age of 17, Vidal began writing his first novel while serving on a supply ship off the coast of Alaska. Williwaw (1946) was a modest success, but it was his third novel The City and the Pillar two years later that made headlines. The latter featured an openly gay protagonist, and Vidal subsequently claimed that his career was damaged because he was effectively blackballed by many of the leading literary reviewers.
He persisted as a writer, though, and diversified. During the 1950s, Vidal wrote a number of stage plays and became a writer for film (including the 1959 film version of Ben Hur) and television. He attempted to enter politics, before writing the bestselling novel Julian (1964). Four years later came the groundbreaking Myra Breckenridge, which proved hugely controversial due to the author’s attempts to subvert and lampoon the dominant societal conventions concerning sexuality. Vidal was now officially A Controvesial Author, and he began to appear on television as a cultural commentator.
In later years, Vidal made another attempt at a political career before accepting that perhaps his heart really wasn’t in the endeavour. He continued to write novels, most notably the reality television satire Duluth (1983) and the hisorical novel Hollywood (1990). He became something of an icon for both the gay rights movement and the political left, and was a harsh critic of the George W. Bush administration.