Gore Vidal, 1925–2012

The literary juggernaut who charted America’s decline

Gore Vidal considered himself the great chronicler of America’s moral and intellectual decay. The novelist, screenwriter, and essayist delighted in archly condemning his fellow Americans and lambasting the soul-sapping state of popular culture, especially television. Deeming himself immune to this poison, Vidal appeared on TV as often as he could. He fought bitter onscreen battles with author Norman Mailer and conservative pundit William F. Buckley Jr.—who once threatened to punch him in his “goddamn face”—debating everything from sex and history to art and politics. And Vidal had a remedy for every social ill he diagnosed. “There is not one human problem,” he said, “that could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.”

Eugene Luther Gore Vidal was born at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and “grew up expecting a career in national politics,” said the Los Angeles Times. His father, Eugene, served as director of air commerce under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and his mother, Nina, was the socialite daughter of Sen. Thomas Gore, an influential Oklahoma Democrat. While attending the private St. Albans School in Washington, Vidal had an intense sexual relationship with a fellow student named Jimmie Trimble, who later died in combat during World War II. “He never truly loved anyone again,” said The Washington Post. The loss didn’t stop him from having casual sex with hundreds of men and women, or maintaining a 50-year partnership with Howard Austen, who died in 2003. The secret to their relationship’s longevity, he said, was “no sex.”

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