Kurt Vonnegut dead at 84

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Kurt Vonnegut, whose dark, satirical vision in works including “Slaughterhouse-Five” and “Cat’s Cradle” was shaped by the horrors he witnessed during World War II, has died at age 84.

Author Kurt Vonnegut is shown in this undated publicity photograph from Random House Publishers. Vonnegut, best known for his novels "Slaughterhouse-Five" and "Cat's Cradle," died at age 84 on April 11, 2007, the New York Times reported. REUTERS/Courtesy Random House Publishers/Handout

Vonnegut died on Wednesday after suffering brain injuries following a fall weeks ago, said Donald Farber, Vonnegut’s friend, lawyer, agent and manager.

Vonnegut wrote plays, essays and short fiction, but his 14 novels were classics of the American counterculture, resonating with the U.S. antiwar sentiment during the Vietnam War era.

The author’s Web site, updated after his death, displayed a simple black-and-white image of a bird cage -- a symbolic element in his writing -- empty with an open door. “Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. 1922-2007,” the page read.

“He was a beautiful man,” Farber said. “I never hung up the phone without having laughed, he always left me laughing, no matter what the circumstances of the world.”

“I last spoke to him the day he fell,” Farber said. “He was in good spirits. Every time he spoke with me no matter what the circumstances in the world, he had a funny angle on it even if it wasn’t a funny thing.”

Despite battles with severe depression, Vonnegut was known for his witticisms.

“I’ve had a hell of a good time,” Vonnegut once wrote. “I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you any different.”

Irwyn Applebaum, president of the Bantam Dell publishing division of Random House, said, “By all counts he was one of the great writers of the 20th Century and continued to be one of the great writers in the 21st Century.”

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Bantam Dell publishes some of the author’s seminal works, including “Breakfast of Champions,” “Slaughterhouse-Five” and “Cat’s Cradle,” which made him a literary idol in the 1960s and 1970s, especially to students.

A defining event in Vonnegut’s life was the firebombing of Dresden, Germany by Allied Forces in 1945, which he witnessed as a young prisoner of war. The bombing killed tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians.

Dresden was the basis for “Slaughterhouse-Five,” published in 1969 against the backdrop of war in Vietnam, racial unrest and cultural and social upheaval.

“There is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre,” Vonnegut wrote.

Vonnegut became a cult hero when the novel reached No. 1 on bestseller lists and even more popular among many young Americans when some schools and libraries banned the book for its sexual content, rough language and depictions of violence.

The novel featured a signature Vonnegut phrase, “so it goes,” which became a catch phrase for Vietnam war opponents.

After the book was published, Vonnegut went into severe depression and vowed never to write another novel. In 1984, he tried to take his life with sleeping pills and alcohol. His mother had herself committed suicide.

Vonnegut mixed fiction and autobiography in his work, which also blended elements of science fiction and touched on authoritarianism and the dehumanization of man by technology.

Fans said he invented a new literary type but some critics accused him of recycling themes and characters.

“Cat’s Cradle” was published in 1963 and initially sold only about 500 copies but it remains widely read today in high school English classes.

Vonnegut’s last book, published in 2005, was a collection of biographical essays, “A Man Without a Country.”

A fourth-generation German-American who was born in Indianapolis, Vonnegut is survived by his second wife photographer Jill Krementz, their daughter and his six other children. Two of his children are published authors.

Mark Vonnegut, named after Mark Twain whom his father admired and bore a striking resemblance to, wrote “The Eden Express: A Memoir of Insanity” about his own descent and eventual recovery from mental illness. He speculated the illness was partly hereditary.

Daughter Edith Vonnegut, an artist, wrote “Domestic Goddesses,” which takes issue with traditional art imagery in which women are shown as weak and helpless.