December 25, 2008 / 4:58 PM / 9 years ago

Nobel-winning playwright Harold Pinter dead at 78

<p>A file photo shows British playwright Harold Pinter talking to journalists outside his home after he won the Nobel prize for literature in London October 13, 2005. Harold Pinter has died in London according to media reports.Kieran Doherty</p>

LONDON (Reuters) - Harold Pinter, the British playwright and Nobel laureate famous for his brooding portrayals of domestic life and barbed politics, has died aged 78.

His plays, including "The Caretaker" and "The Homecoming," were regarded as among the finest of the last half century and enjoyed a recent renaissance as modern audiences tapped into his dark studies of the menace and chaos within everyday life.

Pinter, who won the Nobel prize for literature in 2005, was a vocal opponent of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, likening U.S. President George W. Bush's administration to the Nazis and calling ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair a "mass murderer."

Pinter died on Wednesday after a long battle with cancer, according to media reports. His second wife, Lady Antonia Fraser, told the Guardian newspaper he had been "a great."

"It was a privilege to live with him for over 33 years. He will never be forgotten," she said.

Pinter's work influenced a generation of British dramatists, defined the "kitchen sink" drama and introduced a new word to the English language. "Pinteresque" describes painfully taut silences peppered with threats or half-stated meanings.

Critics dubbed Pinter's chilling masterpieces "the theater of insecurity." The son of a working-class Jewish tailor gave little help to audiences struggling to unravel his plays.

"There are no hard distinctions between what is real and unreal," he said.

MARITAL SCANDAL

From 1958 to 1978 a flurry of Pinter plays changed the face of British theater. Then silence fell for 15 years until the London production of his next full-length play, "Moonlight."

He became the subject of marital scandal in 1980 when his actress wife Vivien Merchant divorced him because of his affair with author Lady Fraser.

Pinter married Fraser later that year. Merchant, star of many of Pinter's plays, died in 1982, a victim of alcoholism.

In later life Pinter became almost as well known for his political activism as for his art, campaigning for human rights and nuclear disarmament and speaking out against Western foreign policy.

"The crimes of the U.S. throughout the world have been systematic, constant, clinical, remorseless and fully documented but nobody talks about them," he said.

Pinter also carved out a distinguished career as a screenwriter with hits such as "The French Lieutenant's Woman" and "The Servant."

But, back in 1958, Pinter's first full-length play -- "The Birthday Party" -- nearly became his last.

Critics derided him, the play folded after a week and the budding playwright contemplated quitting.

Influential critic Harold Hobson came to the rescue, saying: "Mr Pinter, on the evidence of this work, possesses the most original, disturbing and arresting theatrical talent in London."

Less than two years later, Pinter's second play, "The Caretaker," opened in London's West End and established his reputation as a major dramatist.

Editing by Andrew Roche

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