So Gore Vidal, once-famous novelist and preening, latitudinarian controversialist, has died, aged 86, of complications from pneumonia, the disease that in bygone years was called the old person’s friend.
I never had much time for Vidal — I found his novels unreadable (Burr, Lincoln) where they were not comically repellent (the jejune pornography of Myra Breckinridge), and his bad-boy polemicizing seemed to me to me barely distinguishable from simple hysteria.
My dislike hardened after I met and became friends with Bill Buckley, who had a long-running altercation with Vidal. The high-point (from the point of view of histrionics) was during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Vidal described Bill as a “crypto-Nazi” and for perhaps the only time in his career Bill lost his temper and threatened to “sock” him.
I know Bill ever after regretted losing his temper, though Vidal’s provocation was sufficient to test the most patient soul. Bill did not, however, alter his opinion of Vidal, and his long essay “On Experiencing Gore Vidal” in a 1969 number of Esquire provides what I regard as the last word on this curious specimen of self-absorbed, hedonistic fauna. Hillsdale college maintains a huge, downloadable archive of Buckley’s work and the essay is available in PDF format here. It has all you need to know about G. Vidal. RIP.