Aristocratic yet populist, broadminded yet abrasive and intolerant, Gore Vidal was an enigmatic figure. Born Eugene Louis Vidal Jr., he took his mother’s maiden name as his first. A scion of the Gore family, Vidal made a point of his heritage, mentioning on more than one occasion that his family had been politically involved since the 17th century. His eagerness to dredge up history contrasted with his politics; he stood in opposition to every facet of the American establishment. Vidal ran for several offices unsuccessfully. His acidic rhetoric endeared him to few, though none could fault him for dishonesty or obfuscation.
Vidal could never be accused of courtesy, but can be excused by his creative output. His fiction—some of the first to so brazenly address homosexuality and to depict so-called deviant behavior—was groundbreaking, often-banned, and much-loved. He was himself bisexual, and his thoughts on human sexuality laid the groundwork for contemporary ideas. The breadth of his artistic output was immense, spanning the gulf between Ben Hur, whose screenplay he co-wrote, and the non-fiction Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta. He also famously represented the liberal side of things in a series of televised debates against William F. Buckley Jr.
He never lost his edge. After Buckley’s death, Vidal wrote in a 2008 essay “RIP WFB—in hell.” The Guardian has taken a selection of the author’s most famous quotations, showing him as he is: a man of acerbic wit and undeniable insight, and a strange personality.
I’m exactly as I appear. There is no warm, lovable person inside. Beneath my cold exterior, once you break the ice, you find cold water.