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Novelist, essayist, memoirist, playwright, screenwriter, actor, sexual liberationist, traitor to his class, balloon-popper of the pious and pretentious, the country's last true man of letters (they should now retire the title), Gore Vidal belonged to the Greatest Generation of American authors, and was the last great one to go. (He died on July 31st, 2012 at the age of 86.) The triumphant arc of Vidal's literary career wasn't solely a mastery of language, though that never hurts. Handsome, poised, slim, charismatic, able to hold his own in verbal fisticuffs without losing his imperious cool, Vidal was the premiere star author of his generation, the one who elevated the role of talk-show guest to a command performance - a theatrical event. He brought the electronic crackle of the TV screen to his prose and the tactical precision of his prose to combat debate on TV. His near-violent altercations on camera with William F. Buckley, Jr. and Norman Mailer are the stuff of YouTube legend and the secret to The Gore Supremacy.
A contributing writer to Vanity Fair, a partisan observer of pop culture, and the author of the New York-in-the-70s memoir Lucking Out (which comes out in paperback this fall), James Wolcott has been a close-up observer of Vidal on-camera and off for more years than seems respectable. This is his way of paying homage - and saying goodbye.