Gore Vidal, the elegant, acerbic all-around man of letters who presided with a certain relish over what he declared to be the end of American civilization, died on Tuesday at his home in the Hollywood Hills section of Los Angeles, where he moved in 2003, after years of living in Ravello, Italy. He was 86.
The cause was complications of pneumonia, his nephew Burr Steers said by telephone.
Mr. Vidal was, at the end of his life, an Augustan figure who believed himself to be the last of a breed, and he was probably right. Few American writers have been more versatile or gotten more mileage from their talent. He published some 25 novels, two memoirs and several volumes of stylish, magisterial essays. He also wrote plays, television dramas and screenplays. For a while he was even a contract writer at MGM. And he could always be counted on for a spur-of-the-moment aphorism, putdown or sharply worded critique of American foreign policy.
- I'm a born-again atheist.
- I am at heart a propagandist, a tremendous hater, a tiresome nag, complacently positive that there is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.
- The four most beautiful words in our common language: I told you so.
- A good deed never goes unpunished.
- Write something, even if it's just a suicide note.
- In any case, write what you know will always be excellent advice to those who ought not to write at all.
- Andy Warhol is the only genius I've ever known with an IQ of 60 *
- Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say and not giving a damn.
- It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.
- Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little.
- At any given moment, public opinion is a chaos of superstition, misinformation, and prejudice.
- The theatre needs continual reminders that there is nothing more debasing than the work of those who do well what is not worth doing at all.
- I suspect that one of the reasons we create fiction is to make sex exciting.
- All children alarm their parents, if only because you are forever expecting to encounter yourself.
- Today's public figures can no longer write their own speeches or books, and there is some evidence that they can't read them either.
- Never pass up a chance to have sex or appear on television.
- Television is a great leveller. You always end up sounding like the people who ask the questions.
- A narcissist is someone better looking than you are.
- We must always remember that the police are recruited from the criminal classes.
- Any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically, by definition, be disqualified from ever doing so.
- The more money an American accumulates, the less interesting he becomes.
- Half the American people never read a newspaper. Half never vote for President — the same half?
- The United States was founded by the brightest people in the country — and we haven't seen them since.
- We should stop going around babbling about how we're the greatest democracy on earth, when we're not even a democracy. We are a sort of militarised republic.
- “I'm exactly as I appear. There is no warm loveable person inside. Beneath my cold exterior, once you break the ice, you find cold water.
- I can understand companionship. I can understand bought sex in the afternoon, but I cannot understand the love affair.
- 'Liberal' comes from the Latin liberalis, which means pertaining to a free man. In politics, to be liberal is to want to extend democracy through change and reform. One can see why the word had to be erased from our political lexicon.
- Apparently, conspiracy stuff is now shorthand for unspeakable truth
- Lennon was somebody who was a born enemy of those who govern the United States. He was everything they hated. So I just say that he represented life, and is admirable; and Mr. Nixon and Mr. Bush represent death, and that is a bad thing.
- Everybody likes a bit of gossip to some point, as long as it’s gossip with some point to it. That’s why I like history. History is nothing but gossip about the past, with the hope that it might be true.
- Private lives should be no business of the State. The State is bad enough as it is. It cannot educate or medicate or feed the people; it cannot do anything but kill the people. No State like that do we want prying into our private lives.
- Don’t ever make the mistake with people like me thinking we are looking for heroes. There aren’t any and if there were, they would be killed immediately. I’m never surprised by bad behaviour. I expect it.
- There is something about a bureaucrat that does not like a poem.
- Actually, there is no such thing as a homosexual person, any more than there is such a thing as a heterosexual person. The words are adjectives describing sexual acts, not people. The sexual acts are entirely normal; if they were not, no one would perform them.
- The reason no one has yet been able to come up with a good word to describe the homosexualist (sometimes known as gay, fag, queer, etc.) is because he does not exist. The human race is divided into male and female. Many human beings enjoy sexual relations with their own sex, many don't; many respond to both. This plurality is the fact of our nature and not worth fretting about.
- I have begun writing what I have said I'd never write, a memoir (I am not my own subject, I used to say with icy superiority).
- My father had a deep and lifelong contempt for politicians in general (They tell lies, he used to say with wonder, even when they don't have to).
- Some of my father's fellow West Pointers once asked him why I turned out so well, his secret in raising me. And he said, I never gave him any advice, and he never asked for any. We agreed on nothing, but we never quarrelled once.
- I regard monotheism as the greatest disaster ever to befall the human race. I see no good in Judaism, Christianity, or Islam — good people, yes, but any religion based on a single... well, frenzied and virulent god, is not as useful to the human race as, say, Confucianism, which is not a religion but an ethical and educational system that has worked pretty well for twenty-five hundred years. So you see I am ecumenical in my dislike for the Book. But like it or not, the Book is there; and because of it people die; and the world is in danger.
- It is reasonable to assume that, by and large, what is not read now will not be read, ever. It is also reasonable to assume that practically nothing that is read now will be read later. Finally, it is not too farfetched to imagine a future in which novels are not read at all.
Incidentally, he wasn't the one who said "Never have children, only grandchildren." This was said by Vidal's maternal grandfather, Thomas Pryor Gore, as recalled by Vidal: "My grandfather, Senator Gore ('I never give advice') was suddenly Polonius; he also changed his usual line from 'Never have children, only grandchildren' to 'Be not fruitful, do not multiply.' [Palimpsest, ch. 3: The Desire and the Successful Pursuit of the Whole]
*In a 2009 interview to the Vanity Fair, he brought his estimation of Warhol’s I.Q. down to 20 and said Warhol “always saw to it that he’d get invited anywhere.”
Also See: The Gore Vidal Pages