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US author Gore Vidal dies aged 86

Gay rights advocate who was among the first to write novels about openly gay relationships in 1948 has died in Los Angeles
US writer Gore Vidal, known for his acerbic wit and numerous essays, has died from pneumonia complications in Los Angeles.

American author, wit, commentator, playwright and politician Gore Vidal has died aged 86.

Vidal died at his home in Los Angeles at about 7.45pm on Tuesday (31 July) local time from pneumonia complications.

He had been living alone in the home and had been sick at home for quite a while, his nephew Burr Steers said.

Vidal’s works include hundreds of essays as well as the groundbreaking 1948 novel The City and the Pillar, which was among the first books to feature openly gay characters and caused outrage at the time.

Many bookshops refused to stock it and Vidal was forced to write under pseudonyms for years. In 1957, he was called on to save the script of the Oscar-winning 1959 film Ben-Hur.

The City and the Pillar was dedicated to ‘J.T.’, and sparked discussions for decades about the man or woman’s identity.

Vidal later confirmed they were the initials of James ‘Jimmy’ Trimble III, killed in the Battle of Iwo Jima, who he later described as the only person he had ever loved.

The writer never referred to himself as gay or bisexual, but claimed to have had over 1000 sexual encounters with both men and women. His partner of 53 years Howard Austen died in 2003, who he lived with in an Italian villa for the majority of his later life.

He once said: ‘We are all bisexual to begin with. That is a fact of our condition. And we are all responsive to sexual stimuli from our own as well as from the opposite sex. Certain societies at certain times, usually in the interest of maintaining the baby supply, have discouraged homosexuality.

‘Other societies, particularly militaristic ones, have exalted it. But regardless of tribal taboos, homosexuality is a constant fact of the human condition and it is not a sickness, not a sin, not a crime ... despite the best efforts of our puritan tribe to make it all three.

‘Homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality. Notice I use the word 'natural,' not normal.’

The acid-tongued commentator ran for political office twice, and his circle included Tennessee Williams, Orson Welles and Frank Sinatra.

Born in New York on October 3 1925, Vidal was best known for his acerbic wit, vast intelligence, and political criticism.

His many quotes include: ‘I never miss a chance to have sex or appear on television.’

‘Any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically by definition be disqualified from ever doing so.’

‘Andy Warhol is the only genius I've ever known with an IQ of 60.’

‘Fifty percent of people won't vote, and fifty percent don't read newspapers. I hope it's the same fifty percent.’

Vidal never married, and is survived by his half-sister Nina Straight and half-brother Tommy Auchincloss.

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