NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) - The death of author Gore Vidal at the age of 86 brought tributes from around the globe on Wednesday, as friends and fans mourned the passing of the man remembered as one of America’s literary giants.
Vidal, whose biting observations on politics, sex and American culture in novels, plays and essays made him one of the best-known authors of his generation, died at his home in Los Angeles on Tuesday of complications from pneumonia.
“Gore Vidal was the last surviving giant of a postwar crop of American literary giants,” said Gerald Howard, the executive editor and vice president at Doubleday, and Gore’s editor for more than a decade.
“He was also that rare American writer who spoke not just to his countrymen but to the entire world, which listened closely to what he had to say.”
Howard praised Vidal’s many achievements and remembered his dashing persona.
“He can’t be replaced and he most certainly will be missed. The world just became a duller place,” he added.
Michael Coffey, the editorial co-director of the trade magazine Publisher’s Weekly, described Vidal as a prolific writer and an entertaining and rollicking storyteller.
“Despite all that productivity he was able to step outside and into the public arena and comment on politics and culture in a very lucid and entertaining way,” Coffey said in an interview.
One of the joys of Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter’s career was publishing Vidal’s writings in the magazine.
“Whether you agreed with him or not, you always had to concede that he got his point across with the utmost elegance,” Carter said.
Vidal, born in West Point, New York, began writing as a 19-year-old soldier stationed in Alaska, where his World War Two experiences provided material for his first work, “Williwaw”.
But it was his third novel, “The City and the Pillar,” which openly featured one of the first homosexual protagonists, that created a sensation in 1948.
A series of historical novels — “Burr,” “1876,” “Lincoln” and “The Golden Age” among them — as well as the campy transsexual comedy “Myra Breckinridge” also form Vidal’s legacy in a publishing career spanning over six decades.
For Jeffrey Richards, producer of a revival of Vidal’s “The Best Man” currently on Broadway, Vidal was simply “an original.”
“He wrote novels, essays, plays, teleplays and films with grace, distinction, style, wit and wisdom. Not to mention that he was a master raconteur, an accomplished actor, a brilliant gadfly and an impishly gifted impersonator,” he said.
“For his contribution to American culture, we will always be in his debt.”
Michael Kammen, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and professor emeritus of American History and Culture at Cornell University, said Vidal was “a brilliant intellect, a superb stylist, and a fabulous gossip.”
“He was a great controversialist, doing battle on television panel shows with conservatives. He described and explained American political culture past and present and illuminated what we thought we knew, or areas that we had forgotten. He had the most inquiring mind you can imagine and he dared to be outspoken. He will be missed,” he said.
Vidal, a self-described “gentleman bitch,” was just as well known for his caustic comments outside the covers of his books.
He considered Ernest Hemingway a joke and compared Truman Capote to a “filthy animal that has found its way into the house.”
His most famous literary enemies were Norman Mailer and conservative pundit William F. Buckley Jr.
Mailer, whom Vidal once likened to cult killer Charles Manson, head-butted Vidal before a TV appearance.
“Gore Vidal dreaded the idea of an afterlife, because it would mean he’d have to see Norman Mailer again. Rest In Peace,” said comedian Frank Conniff on the social messaging service Twitter, where tributes to Vidal mainly took the form of quotations from the writer.
Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore and rock singer Courtney Love were among the many celebrities who posted their favorite sayings.
“‘Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say and not giving a damn.’ quoted by Gore Vidal ... you will be missed, rest in peace Gore,” said Love in a Twitter message.
Moore chose: “Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for president. One hopes it is the same half.” This quotation was also tweeted by the British Internet entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox.
British writer Owen Jones, who penned the book “Chavs” about British social class, picked a Vidal quote about friendship and death: “‘Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies’. RIP Gore Vidal, a great intellectual of our time. No-one did acerbic better.”
Editing by Will Dunham, Gary Hill