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Literary Icon Gore Vidal Dead at 86

Gore Vidal AP Photo

Gore Vidal truly was one of the last of his kind.

The prolific author, essayist and writer for stage and screen died Tuesday at his Hollywood Hills home due to complications of pneumonia, nephew Burr Steers told the Los Angeles Times.

His most well-known novels include Myra Breckinridge, Two Sisters and Lincoln, but he had already broken ground decades beforehand with 1948's The City and the Pillar, which features a main character who is in the process of coming out as gay—a plot deemed scandalous and pornographic at the time.

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"Homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality," Vidal said in an interview with Esquire in 1969. "Notice I use the word 'natural,' not normal."

Though he later said he felt abandoned by the literary establishment following The City and the Pillar's publication, Vidal took his talents to the stage, television and film—but he still cranked out 24 novels, including five in the 1950s.

His biggest Broadway success was the politically themed play The Best Man, which enjoyed a 520-performance run in 1961. Henry Fonda starred in the 1964 film adaptation, and then the drama with its still resonant themes was revived in 2000 and again just this year, as Gore Vidal's The Best Man, with an all-star cast that included James Earl Jones, Angela Lansbury, Candice Bergen and Eric McCormack.

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After penning dozens of scripts for episodes of shows like The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse and Studio One in Hollywood, Vidal adapted Tennessee William's play Suddenly Last Summer for the big screen in 1959.

Hired by MGM as a script doctor, Vidal was also famously called in to polish Ben-Hur, the 1959 epic starring Charlton Heston, but he remains officially uncredited for the work he did on the Oscar-nominated screenplay.

Rather notoriously, on the other hand, he also wrote the widely panned, sexually explicit Caligula, the passion project of Penthouse founder Bob Guccione.

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"gore vidal. one of tennessee's closest and a true revolutionary. incendiary. insightful. incisive. missed by many already," tweeted Zachary Quinto upon hearing of the revered writer's passing.

Vidal, who never saw much use in keeping his witty, well-informed opinions to himself, unsuccessfully ran for a seat in  New York's 29th congressional district—but he won more votes in the Republican stronghold than any Democratic candidate had received in 50 years.

"Gore Vidal is dead. The truth just took a big hit. RIP," tweeted comedian Marc Maron.

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The West Point, N.Y., native's essays were peppered with the names of rich and famous folk he kept company with, from fellow literary luminaries like Susan Sontag and Anaïs Nin (she claimed they had an affair, he denied it in Palmipsest) to Hollywood heavies like Marlon Brando and Paul Newman.

Vidal's running feud with fellow man of letters Norman Mailer was also the stuff of literary legend.

His final novel was 2000's The Golden Age, the last of his seven books in his Narratives of Empire series, which he started in 1967 with Washington, D.C. (Though when all had been written, Washington, D.C. came sixth as far as narrative chronology goes, and 1973's Burr went back the farthest.)

Younger generations may recognize Vidal—or his voice, at least—from appearances on American Masters, Da Ali G Show, Family Guy and The Simpsons over the last 10 years.

A full list of survivors wasn't immediately available. Vidal lived with companion Howard Austen for 53 years (Vidal had said that the secret of their relationship was that they never slept together) until Austen's death in 2003.

In his 2006 memoir Point to Point Navigation, Vidal quoted Austen as saying on his deathbed, "Didn't it go by awfully fast?"

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