US Novelist Gore Vidal, the iconoclastic commentator on American life and history in works such as “Lincoln” and “Myra Breckinridge,” died at age 86, his family said.

The writer’s nephew Burr Steers told the Los Angeles Times that Gore Vidal had died at his home in the Hollywood Hills of complications from Pneumonia.

He was one the giants of a generation of American writers that included Norman Mailer and Truman Capote, as well known for his flamboyant social and sex life and provocative political views as for his novels.

“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,” the New York Times wrote in its obituary.

He wrote 25 novels, essays, Broadway hits, screenplays and television dramas in a career that also included unsuccessful runs for political office, celebrated talk show duels, and even an appearance as himself in Fellini’s “Roma”.

His third novel “The City and the Pillar” dealt unabashedly with homosexuality, scandalising reviewers when it was published in 1948 but breaking new ground in American literature.

Openly bisexual himself and contemptuous of prudish mores, he returned to the subject of sexual identity 20 years later in his transsexual satire “Myra Breckinridge.”

Other novels dealt with US politics and history, tracing what he saw as the rise of an American Empire in novels like “Burr” (1973), “1876” (1976), “Lincoln” (1984), “Empire” (1987), “Hollywood” (1990), and “The Golden Age” (2000).

Satires included “Kalki” (1978), “Duluth” (1983) and “Live from Golgotha: the Gospel according to Gore Vidal” (1992). His politics often sparked controversy.

In a memorable televised exchange, Gore Vidal called William F Buckley a “crypto-Nazi”, prompting the conservative columnist to lash out at his onetime childhood friend.

(This article was published on August 1, 2012)
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