Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Gore Vidal, R.I.P.

Various news sources have reported that Gore Vidal died today at age 86. He had been in declining health for some while. Over the years, I’ve seen him numerous times around town at various events such as the LA Times Festival of Books, and I recall seeing him somewhere a year or two ago where he mostly sat planted in a chair, slightly confused. In his final television appearance (at least, the final one I saw), on Bill Maher’s show on HBO, Mr. Maher was uncharacteristically gracious in trying to overlook Mr. Vidal’s slippage. I say all this by way of noting that I doubt anyone is surprised that he’s now died, and to recall the comment a friend made after we’d both seen that HBO show: “He needs to die now.” I like to think that Gore Vidal would have appreciated the candor.

A quick scan of my bookshelves reveals 13 volumes of his works, plus others that I’ve read that I know are misshelved: I read “Creation” and his omnibus of essays, and “Kalki” and “Myra Breckinridge” and I don’t see any of them there. All tolled, I’ve read many thousands of pages of his work, some of them twice, and have earned the right to say that he was not a prose stylist. (And so, don’t believe any obits that would have you think so.) What he was was a popularizer — someone who knew history, both ancient and modern, better than you did, and could spin an entertaining yarn about it that conveyed his firmly held opinions. That’s what he did in print, and that’s what he did on television, frequently with Johnny Carson but often with others: make a middlebrow audience feel smarter. To read Gore Vidal was to make connections between past and present, and between people here and people there, that you otherwise would have missed, and to think afresh about things that everyone else had considered settled.

This middlebrow reader will miss him. Not because I agreed with him (sometimes yes, sometimes no), but because his writing was informative, his opinions were usually countervailing, and his style was always entertaining. And also because he’s our last great literary celebrity, someone who was widely read and widely bed.

2 Responses to “Gore Vidal, R.I.P.”

  1. Isabel Storey Says:

    Well stated, Mr. Wochner.

  2. UNCLE RICH Says:

    Yeah, I caught one of those TV appearances that he shouldn’t have made. He launched into his standard speech about one President but they were talking about another. On the other hand, I might read KALKI for the third time. Lee, did you get to listen to his book on CD that I sent you?

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