The last of the mavericks: Vidal dead, aged 86

Michael Dirda, Washington Post

Gore Vidal, 86, a celebrated writer, cultural gadfly and occasional political candidate, died of pneumonia Tuesday at his Hollywood Hills home, according to a nephew. Known for his urbanity and wit — “Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little” — Vidal’s literary career spanned more than 60 years, and he once said that he hoped to be remembered as “the person who wrote the best sentences of his time.”

He was an astonishingly versatile man of letters and nearly the last major writer of the modern era to have served in World War II. Having resolved at age 20 to live by his pen, Vidal produced plays for television and Broadway, including the classic political drama “The Best Man”; helped script such movies as “Ben-Hur,” the 1959 epic starring Charlton Heston; and gained notoriety for the campy novel “Myra Breckinridge,” about a transsexual film enthusiast.

Vidal also won plaudits from scholars, critics and ordinary readers for historical novels such as the best-selling “Julian,” “Burr” and “Lincoln,” and English critic Jonathan Keates called him “the 20th century’s finest essayist.” “United States,” which gathers Vidal’s essays on art, politics and himself, received the 1993 National Book Award. In print or on television — he was a frequent talk-show guest — the worldly Vidal provoked controversy with his laissez-faire attitude toward every sort of sexuality, his well-reasoned disgust with American imperialism and his sophisticated cynicism about love, religion, patriotism and other sacred cows.

Read the full obituary at the Washington Post …