LOS ANGELES (AFP)
US novelist Gore Vidal, the iconoclastic commentator on American life and history in works such as "Lincoln" and "Myra Breckinridge," died Tuesday at age 86, his family said.
The writer's nephew Burr Steers told the Los Angeles Times that 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, scandalizing 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, Vidal called William F Buckley a "crypto-Nazi", prompting the conservative columnist to lash out at his onetime childhood friend.
"Now listen, you queer. Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi, or I'll sock you in the goddamn face and you'll stay plastered," Buckley said.
Vidal was said to have been head-butted by Norman Mailer in an off-stage argument before another talk show appearance.
The son of a US army officer, Vidal was born October 3, 1925 at West Point, the US military academy, to a family rich in political and social connections.
His father Eugene Vidal, an army aviator, was reportedly the love of aviator Amelia Earhart's life.
His mother, who divorced his father, was later married to socialite Hugh Auchincloss, who later became Jacqueline Kennedy's stepfather -- a connection Vidal loved to play up. He also was distantly related to former vice president Al Gore.
He was introduced to politics growing up in Washington where his grandfather, Thomas Gore, a US senator from Oklahoma, sometimes allowed him to accompany him on the Senate floor.
Vidal's fascination with political power found its way into his 1967 novel "Washington DC" which tells the story of a political family on the make.
He attended a succession of elite private schools, including St Albans in Washington and the Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.
A fellow student at Exeter, the writer John Knowles, later used Vidal as the model for a character in his classic prep school novel "A Separate Peace."
After a stint in the army during World War II, Vidal found early commercial success as a novelist, and soon counted among his friends the writers Anais Nin, Tennessee Williams and Christopher Isherwood.
But athlete Jimmy Trimble, whom he met at St Albans, was the only true love his life, Vidal later said. Trimble was killed at the battle of Iwo Jima. Vidal dedicated "The City and the Pillar" to "JT".
Vidal lived for 53 years with Howard Austen, an advertising executive.
For three decades, Vidal wrote and observed America from his villa in Ravello, Italy, but as his health declined he returned full time to his home in California.
Even as he turned out novels, plays and other literary works, politics was never far from the picture.
He ran for Congress in 1960 from a district in New York as a Democrat, but lost. In 1982, he campaigned unsuccessfully against Governor Jerry Brown in a Democratic gubernatorial primary in California.
In later years, Vidal's political views tended toward the conspiratorial, and he was particularly scathing about the administration of president George W. Bush, whom he once dismissed as "the stupidest man in the United States".
He corresponded with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh as he awaited execution, and suggested the Bush administration may have been behind the 9/11 attacks -- which prompted another iconoclastic writer, Christopher Hitchens, to deride Vidal as a crackpot in a 2010 article for Vanity Fair titled "Vidal Loco".