Fans mourn US author Vidal, tweet writer's witticisms

LONDON Wed Aug 1, 2012 10:04am EDT

LONDON Aug 1 (Reuters) - The death of American author Gore Vidal at the age of 86 brought tributes from around the globe on Wednesday, as ordinary readers and celebrities shared their favourite quips from a writer once described as the Oscar Wilde of the modern age.

Vidal, whose biting observations on politics, sex and American culture in novels and essays made him one of the best-known American authors of his generation, died at his home in Los Angeles on Tuesday of complications from pneumonia.

Sidney Blumenthal, a former aide to Bill Clinton, said Vidal was "one of the several dominant literary figures of mid-century America".

"What he had in his veins was a sense of high politics and an understanding - in a way that no other literary figure of his generation did - of Washington. It was unique," Blumenthal told BBC radio.

British theatre and opera director Jonathan Miller, who moved in the same celebrity circles as Vidal in New York in the 1960s, paid tribute to the writer, describing him as "grand" and "fun to be with".

"He was amusing ... an old-fashioned American patrician," he said.

"(This) was very apparent from the way in which he spoke and was very apparent from the way in which he separated himself from some of the idiocies of America in the last 20 or 30 years," he said on BBC radio.

Vidal, born in West Point, New York, began writing as a 19-year-old soldier stationed in Alaska, where his World War Two experiences provided material for his first work, "Williwaw".

But it was with his third novel, "The City and the Pillar", which openly featured one of the first homosexual protagonists, that Vidal created a sensation in 1948.

A series of historical novels - "Burr," "1876," "Lincoln" and "The Golden Age" among them - as well as the campy transsexual comedy "Myra Breckinridge" also form Vidal's literary legacy from a publishing career spanning over six decades.

MODERN OSCAR WILDE

But the self-described "gentleman bitch" was just as well known for his caustic comments outside of the book covers.

He considered Ernest Hemingway a joke and compared Truman Capote to a "filthy animal that has found its way into the house".

His most famous literary enemies were Norman Mailer and conservative pundit William F. Buckley Jr.

Mailer, whom Vidal once likened to cult killer Charles Manson, head-butted Vidal before a TV appearance.

"Gore Vidal dreaded the idea of an afterlife, because it would mean he'd have to see Norman Mailer again. Rest In Peace," said comedian Frank Conniff on the social messaging service Twitter, where tributes to Vidal mainly took the form of quotations from the writer.

Documentary maker Michael Moore and rock singer Courtney Love were among the many celebrities who posted their favourite bon mots.

"'Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say and not giving a damn.' quoted by Gore Vidal....you will be missed, rest in peace Gore," said Love in a Twitter message.

Moore chose: "Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for president. One hopes it is the same half", a quotation also tweeted by the British Internet entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox.

British writer Owen Jones, who penned the book "Chavs" about British social class, picked a Vidal quote about friendship and death.

"'Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies'. RIP Gore Vidal, a great intellectual of our time. No-one did acerbic better." (Editing by Will Dunham)

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