Great US Author Gore Vidal Dies at 86

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Bulgaria: Great US Author Gore Vidal Dies at 86 Gore Vidal wrote more than 20 novels, five plays, numerous screenplays, more than 200 essays and the memoir "Palimpsest." Photo by Getty Images

Gore Vidal, known as the faithful chronicler of American life and politics and one of the country's greatest man of letters, has died. He was 86.

Vidal died at his Los Angeles home Tuesday evening of complications from pneumonia, his nephew Burr Steers told CNN. The author had also been suffering from heart ailments.

Along with being a prolific and celebrated author, Vidal was a high-profile commentator on politics, including his bitter opposition to the war in Iraq.

He joined the Navy at 17 before shocking the world by writing one of the first novels to include an openly gay character: his 1948 work, "The City and the Pillar."

A prolific writer, Gore Vidal produced 25 novels, including the best-selling Burr and Myra Breckenridge, more than 200 essays, and several plays.

His collection of essays, "United States: Essays, 1952-1992" won the National Book Award in 1993.

He also ran for political office twice and was a well-known commentator, a true celebrity, who did not shy away from controversy.

Vidal also appeared in a number of films including the political satire, "Bob Roberts" where he played a U.S. Senator.

"I've had hard targets in my lifetime, I've taken on general superstitions, but that's what writers do. So I certainly, wouldn't have changed my modus vivendi one bit," he said in a CNN interview in 2007.

In the latter stages of his life, Vidal often appeared on the television talk show circuit, going head to head with those with opposing view points -- and gave as good as he got.

In one live TV debate, the conservative author and journalist, William F. Buckley Jr., famously called him a "queer."

"Well, I mean I won the debates, there was no question of that," Vidal recounted. "They took polls, it was ABC Television... And because I'm a writer, people think that I'm this poor little fragile thing. I'm not poor and fragile. ... And anybody who insults me is going to get it right back."

He also voiced himself on the animated show "The Simpsons."

Vidal would say he was a once-famous novelist who was relegated to going on television because people "seldom read anymore."

"All these literary prizes should go to the readers: 'Nobel Prize for the best reader in Milwaukee.' And you know, we must honor them because they are so few," he said in the same CNN interview.

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