He was born to a political family; his maternal grandfather, Thomas Pryor Gore, served as United States senator from Oklahoma (1907–1921 and 1931–1937). He was a Democratic Party politician who twice sought elected office; first to the United States House of Representatives (New York State, 1960), then to the U.S. Senate (California, 1982).
As a political commentator and essayist, Vidal's principal subject was the history of the United States and its society, especially how the militaristic foreign policy reduced the country to a decadent empire. His political and cultural essays were published in The Nation, the New Statesman, the New York Review of Books, and Esquire magazines. As a public intellectual, Gore Vidal's topical debates on sex, politics, and religion with other intellectuals and writers occasionally turned into quarrels with the likes of William F. Buckley Jr. and Norman Mailer. As such, and because he thought all men and women are potentially bisexual, Vidal rejected the adjectives "homosexual" and "heterosexual" when used as nouns, as inherently false terms used to classify and control people in society.
As a novelist Vidal explored the nature of corruption in public and private life. His polished and erudite style of narration readily evoked the time and place of his stories, and perceptively delineated the psychology of his characters. His third novel, The City and the Pillar (1948), offended the literary, political, and moral sensibilities of conservative book reviewers, with a dispassionately presented male homosexual relationship. In the historical novel genre, Vidal re-created in Julian (1964) the imperial world of Julian the Apostate (r. AD 361–63), the Roman emperor who used general religious toleration to re-establish pagan polytheism to counter the political subversion of Christian monotheism. In the genre of social satire, Myra Breckinridge (1968) explores the mutability of gender role and sexual orientation as being social constructs established by social mores. In Burr (1973) and Lincoln (1984), the protagonist is presented as "A Man of the People" and as "A Man" in a narrative exploration of how the public and private facets of personality affect the national politics of the U.S.
Eugene Louis Vidal was born in the cadet hospital of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, the only child of Eugene Luther Vidal (1895–1969) and Nina Gore (1903–1978). Vidal was born at the West Point cadet hospital because his first lieutenant father was the first aeronautics instructor of the military academy. The middle name, Louis, was a mistake on the part of his father, "who could not remember, for certain, whether his own name was Eugene Louis or Eugene Luther". In the memoir Palimpsest (1995), Vidal said, "My birth certificate says 'Eugene Louis Vidal': this was changed to Eugene Luther Vidal Jr.; then Gore was added at my christening [in 1939]; then, at fourteen, I got rid of the first two names."
Eugene Louis Vidal was not baptized until January 1939, when he was 13 years old, by the headmaster of St. Albans school, where Vidal attended preparatory school. The baptismal ceremony was effected so he "could be confirmed [into the Episcopal faith]" at the Washington Cathedral, in February 1939, as "Eugene Luther Gore Vidal". He later said that, although the surname "Gore" was added to his names at the time of the baptism, "I wasn't named for him [maternal grandfather Thomas Pryor Gore], although he had a great influence on my life." In 1941, Vidal dropped his two first names, because he "wanted a sharp, distinctive name, appropriate for an aspiring author, or a national political leader ... I wasn't going to write as 'Gene' since there was already one. I didn't want to use the 'Jr.'"
Eugene Luther Vidal Sr. was director (1933–37) of the Commerce Department's Bureau of Air Commerce during the Roosevelt Administration, and also was the great love of the aviator Amelia Earhart. At the U.S. Military Academy, the exceptionally athletic Vidal Sr. had been a quarterback, coach, and captain of the football team; and an all-American basketball player. Subsequently, he competed in the 1920 Summer Olympics and in the 1924 Summer Olympics (seventh in the decathlon, and coach of the U.S. pentathlon). In the 1920s and the 1930s, Vidal Sr. co-founded three airline companies and a railroad line; (i) the Ludington Line (later Eastern Airlines); (ii) Transcontinental Air Transport (later Trans World Airlines); (iii) Northeast Airlines; and the Boston and Maine Railroad. Gore's great-grandfather Eugen Fidel Vidal was born in Feldkirch, Austria, of Romansh background, and had come to the U.S. with Gore's Swiss great-grandmother, Emma Hartmann.
Vidal's mother, Nina Gore, was a high society woman who made her Broadway theatre debut as an extra actress in Sign of the Leopard, in 1928. In 1922, Nina married Eugene Luther Vidal, Sr., and thirteen years later, in 1935, divorced him. Nina Gore Vidal then was married two more times; to Hugh D. Auchincloss and to Robert Olds. She also had "a long off-and-on affair" with the actor Clark Gable. As Nina Gore Auchincloss, Vidal's mother was an alternate delegate to the 1940 Democratic National Convention.
The subsequent marriages of his mother and father yielded four half-siblings for Gore Vidal – Vance Vidal, Valerie Vidal, Thomas Gore Auchincloss, and Nina Gore Auchincloss – and four step-brothers from his mother's third marriage to Robert Olds, a major general in the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF), who died in 1943, 10 months after marrying Nina. The nephews of Gore Vidal include Burr Steers, a writer and film director, and Hugh Auchincloss Steers (1963–95), a figurative painter.
Raised in Washington, D.C., Vidal attended the Sidwell Friends School and the St. Albans School. Given the blindness of his maternal grandfather, Senator Thomas Pryor Gore, of Oklahoma, Vidal read aloud to him, and was his Senate page, and his seeing-eye guide. The reading of history and literature, coupled to the senator's isolationism, formed the principles of Gore Vidal's "America First" political philosophy, which ran counter to the contemporary geopolitical adventurism of the American Empire. In 1939, during his summer holiday, Vidal went with some colleagues and professor from St. Albans School on his first European trip, to visit Italy and France. He visited for the first time Rome, the city which came "at the center of Gore's literary imagination", and Paris. When the Second World War began in early September, the group was forced to an early return home; on his way back, he and his colleagues stopped in Great Britain, and they met the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, Joe Kennedy (the father of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, later the President of the United States of America). In 1940 he attended the Los Alamos Ranch School and later transferred to Phillips Exeter Academy, in Exeter, New Hampshire, where he contributed to the Exonian, the school newspaper.
In the article Gore Vidal: Sharpest Tongue in the West, Roy Hattersley said that "for reasons he never explained, he [Vidal] did not go on to Harvard, Yale, or Princeton, with other members of his social class." Rather than attend university, Vidal enlisted in the U.S. Army and worked as an office clerk within the USAAF. Later, Vidal passed the examinations necessary to become a maritime warrant officer (junior grade) in the Transportation Corps, and subsequently served as first mate of the F.S. 35th, berthed at Dutch Harbor. After three years in service, Warrant Officer Gene Vidal suffered hypothermia, developed rheumatoid arthritis and, consequently, was reassigned to duty as a mess officer.
The literary works of Gore Vidal were influenced by numerous other writers, poets and playwrights, novelists and essayists. These include, from antiquity: Petronius (d. AD 66), Juvenal (AD 60–140), and Apuleius (fl. ca. AD 155); and from the post-Renaissance: Thomas Love Peacock (1785–1866) and George Meredith (1828–1909). More recent literary figures by whom his work was influenced include: Marcel Proust (1871–1922), Henry James (1843–1916) and Evelyn Waugh (1903–66). The cultural critic Harold Bloom has written that Gore Vidal believed that his sexuality had denied him full recognition from the literary community in the United States but Bloom contends that such limited recognition owed more to Vidal writing in the unfashionable, plot-orientated genre of historical fiction, than with whom Vidal shared a pillow. In 2009, the Man of Letters Gore Vidal was named honorary president of the American Humanist Association.
The literary career of Gore Vidal began with the success of the military novel Williwaw, a men-at-war story derived from his Alaskan Harbor Detachment duty during the Second World War. His second novel, The City and the Pillar (1948) caused a moralistic furor over his dispassionate presentation of a young protagonist coming to terms with his homosexuality and a male homosexual relationship. The novel was dedicated to "J. T."; decades later, Vidal confirmed that the initials were those of James Trimble III, killed in the Battle of Iwo Jima on March 1, 1945 and that Jimmie Trimble was the only person Gore Vidal ever loved.
Critics railed against Vidal’s presentation in The City and the Pillar as natural, a life viewed generally at the time as unnatural and immoral. Vidal claimed that New York Times critic Orville Prescott was so offended by it, that he refused to review or to permit other critics to review, any book by Vidal. Vidal said that upon publication of the book, an editor at EP Dutton told him "You will never be forgiven for this book. Twenty years from now, you will still be attacked for it".
Vidal took the pseudonym "Edgar Box" and wrote the mystery novels Death in the Fifth Position (1952), Death before Bedtime (1953) and Death Likes it Hot (1954) featuring Peter Cutler Sargeant II, a publicist-turned-private-eye. The Edgar Box genre novels sold well and earned black-listed Vidal a secret living. That mystery-novel success led Vidal to write in other genres and he produced the stageplay The Best Man: A Play about Politics (1960) and the television play Visit to a Small Planet (1957). Two early teleplays were A Sense of Justice (1955) and Honor. He also wrote the pulp novel Thieves Fall Out under the pseudonym "Cameron Kay" but refused to have it reprinted under his real name during his life.
In the 1960s, Vidal published Julian (1964), about the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate (r. A.D. 361–363), who sought to reinstate polytheistic paganism when Christianity threatened the cultural integrity of the Roman Empire, Washington, D.C. (1967), about political life during the presidential era (1933–45) of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Myra Breckinridge (1968), a satire of the American movie business, by way of a school of dramatic arts owned by a transsexual woman, the eponymous anti-heroine.
After publishing the plays Weekend (1968) and An Evening With Richard Nixon (1972) and the novel Two Sisters: A Novel in the Form of a Memoir (1970), Vidal concentrated upon the essay and developed two types of fiction. The first type is about American history, novels specifically about the nature of national politics. About those historical novels, the critic Harold Bloom said that "Vidal's imagination of American politics ... is so powerful as to compel awe". The historical novels formed the seven-book series, Narratives of Empire: (i) Burr (1973), (ii) 1876 (1976), (iii) Lincoln (1984), (iv) Empire (1987), (v) Hollywood (1990), (vi) Washington, D.C. (1967) and (vii) The Golden Age (2000). Besides U.S. history, Vidal also explored and analyzed the history of the ancient world, specifically the Axial Age (800–200 B.C.), with the novel Creation (1981). The novel was published without four chapters that were part of the manuscript he submitted to the publisher; years later, Vidal restored the chapters to the text and re-published the novel Creation in 2002.
The second type of fiction is the topical satire, such as Myron (1974) the sequel to Myra Breckinridge; Kalki (1978), about the end of the world and the consequent ennui; Duluth (1983), an alternate universe story; Live from Golgotha (1992), about the adventures of Timothy, Bishop of Macedonia, in the early days of Christianity and The Smithsonian Institution (1998), a time-travel story.
In the U.S., Gore Vidal is often considered an essayist, rather than a novelist. Even the occasionally hostile literary critic, such as Martin Amis, admitted that "Essays are what he is good at ... [Vidal] is learned, funny, and exceptionally clear-sighted. Even his blind spots are illuminating".
For six decades, Vidal applied himself to socio-political, sexual, historical and literary subjects. In the essay anthology Armageddon (1987) Vidal explored the intricacies of power (political and cultural) in the contemporary U.S. His criticism of the incumbent U.S. President, Ronald Reagan, as a "triumph of the embalmer's art" communicated that Reagan's provincial worldview and that of his administrations, was out of date and inadequate to the geopolitical realities of the world in the late twentieth century. In 1993, Vidal won the National Book Award for Nonfiction for the anthology United States: Essays 1952–92 (1993).
According to the citation, "Whatever his subject, he addresses it with an artist's resonant appreciation, a scholar's conscience and the persuasive powers of a great essayist."
In 2000 Vidal published the collection of essays, The Last Empire, then such self-described "pamphlets" as Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta and Imperial America, critiques of American expansionism, the military-industrial complex, the national security state and the George W. Bush administration. Vidal also wrote a historical essay about the U.S. founding fathers, Inventing a Nation. In 1995, he published a memoir Palimpsest and in 2006 its follow-up volume, Point to Point Navigation. Earlier that year, Vidal had published Clouds and Eclipses: The Collected Short Stories.
Because of his matter-of-fact treatment of same-sex relations in such books as The City and The Pillar, Vidal is often seen as an early champion of sexual liberation. In the September 1969 edition of Esquire, for example, Vidal wrote
We are all bisexual to begin with. That is a fact of our condition. And we are all responsive to sexual stimuli from our own as well as from the opposite sex. Certain societies at certain times, usually in the interest of maintaining the baby supply, have discouraged homosexuality. Other societies, particularly militaristic ones, have exalted it. But regardless of tribal taboos, homosexuality is a constant fact of the human condition and it is not a sickness, not a sin, not a crime ... despite the best efforts of our puritan tribe to make it all three. Homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality. Notice I use the word 'natural,' not normal.
In 1995, Jay Parini was appointed as Vidal's literary executor.
In 2009, he won the annual Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation, which called him a "prominent social critic on politics, history, literature and culture".
In 1956, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer hired Gore Vidal as a screenplay writer with a four-year employment contract. In 1958, the director William Wyler required a script doctor to rewrite the screenplay for Ben-Hur (1959), originally written by Karl Tunberg. As one of several script doctors assigned to the project, Vidal rewrote portions of the script to resolve ambiguities of character motivation, specifically to clarify the enmity between the Jewish protagonist, Judah Ben-Hur and the Roman antagonist, Messala, who had been close boyhood friends. In exchange for rewriting the Ben-Hur screenplay, on location in Italy, Vidal negotiated the early termination (at the two-year mark) of his four-year contract with MGM.
Thirty-six years later, in the documentary film The Celluloid Closet (1995), Vidal explained that Messala's failed attempt at resuming their homosexual, boyhood relationship motivated the ostensibly political enmity between Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) and Messala (Stephen Boyd), that Boyd was aware of the homosexual subtext to the scene and that the director, the producer and the screenplay writer agreed to keep Heston ignorant of the subtext, lest he refuse to play the scene. In turn, on learning of that script-doctor explanation, Charlton Heston said that Gore Vidal had contributed little to the script of Ben Hur. Despite Vidal's script-doctor resolution of the character's motivations, the Screen Writers Guild assigned formal screenwriter-credit to Karl Tunberg, in accordance with the WGA screenwriting credit system, which favored the "original author" of a screenplay, rather than the writer of the filmed screenplay.
Two plays, The Best Man: A Play about Politics (1960, made into a film in 1964) and Visit to a Small Planet (1955) were theatre and movie successes; Vidal occasionally returned to the movie business, and wrote historically accurate teleplays and screenplays about subjects important to him. Two such movies are the cowboy movie Billy the Kid (1989), about William H. Bonney a gunman in the Lincoln County War (1878), occurred in the New Mexico territory and later an outlaw in the Western frontier of the U.S. and the Roman Empire movie Caligula (1979), from which Vidal had his screenwriter credit removed, because the producer, Bob Guccione, the director, Tinto Brass and the leading actor, Malcolm McDowell, rewrote the script and added extra sex and violence to increase the commercial success of a movie based upon the life of the Roman Emperor Caligula (AD 12–41), which is the fourth biography in The Twelve Caesars (AD 121), by Suetonius.
As a public intellectual, Gore Vidal was identified with the liberal politicians and the progressive social causes of the old Democratic Party. In 1960, he was the Democratic candidate for Congress for the 29th Congressional District of New York State, a usually Republican district on the Hudson River but lost to the Republican candidate J. Ernest Wharton, by a margin of 57 percent to 43 percent. Campaigning under the slogan of You'll get more with Gore, Vidal received the most votes any Democratic candidate had received in the district in fifty years. Among his supporters were Eleanor Roosevelt and Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, friends who spoke on his behalf.
In 1982, he campaigned against Jerry Brown, the incumbent Governor of California, in the Democratic primary election for the U.S. Senate; Vidal forecast accurately that the opposing Republican candidate would win the election. That foray into senatorial politics is the subject of the documentary film Gore Vidal: The Man Who Said No (1983), directed by Gary Conklin.
In a 2001 article, "The Meaning of Timothy McVeigh", Gore undertook to discover why domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh perpetrated the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. He concluded that McVeigh (a politically disillusioned U.S. Army veteran of the First Iraq War, 1990–91) had destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building as an act of revenge for the FBI's Waco massacre (1993) at the Branch Davidian Compound in Texas, believing that the U.S. government had mistreated Americans in the same manner that he believed that the U.S. Army had mistreated the Iraqis.
In Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta (2002), Vidal drew parallels about how the U.S. enters wars and said that President Franklin D. Roosevelt provoked Imperial Japan to attack the U.S. to justify the American entry to the Second World War (1939–45). He contended that Roosevelt had advance knowledge of the dawn-raid attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941). In the documentary Why We Fight (2005), Vidal said that, during the final months of the war, the Japanese had tried to surrender: "They were trying to surrender all that summer, but Truman wouldn't listen, because Truman wanted to drop the bombs.... To show off. To frighten Stalin. To change the balance of power in the world. To declare war on communism. Perhaps we were starting a pre-emptive world war".
As a public intellectual, Vidal criticized what he viewed as political harm to the nation and the voiding of the citizen's rights through the passage of the USA Patriot Act (2001) during the George W. Bush administration (2001–2009). He described Bush as "the stupidest man in the United States" and said that Bush's foreign policy was explicitly expansionist. He contended that the Bush Administration and their oil-business sponsors, aimed to control the petroleum of Central Asia, after having gained hegemony over the petroleum of the Persian Gulf in 1991.
Vidal became a member of the board of advisors of The World Can't Wait, a political organization who sought to publicly repudiate the foreign-policy program of the Bush Administration (2001–2009) and advocated Bush's impeachment for war crimes, such as the Second Iraq War (2003–2011) and torturing prisoners of war (soldiers, guerrillas, civilians) in violation of international law.
In May 2007, while discussing 9/11 conspiracy theories that might explain the "who?" and the "why?" of the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., Vidal said
I'm not a conspiracy theorist, I'm a conspiracy analyst. Everything the Bushites touch is screwed up. They could never have pulled off 9/11, even if they wanted to. Even if they longed to. They could step aside, though, or just go out to lunch while these terrible things were happening to the nation. I believe that of them.
In a September 30, 2009 interview with The Times of London, Vidal said that there soon would be a dictatorship in the U.S. The newspaper emphasized that Vidal, described as "the Grand Old Man of American belles-lettres", claimed that America is rotting away – and to not expect Barack Obama to save the country and the nation from imperial decay. In the interview, also up-dated his views of his life, the U.S., and other political subjects. Gore had earlier described what he saw as the political and cultural rot in the U.S. in his essay, "The State of the Union" (1975),
There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party ... and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat. Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats, who are cuter, prettier, a bit more corrupt – until recently ... and more willing than the Republicans to make small adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists get out of hand. But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties.
In the American Conservative article, "My Pen Pal Gore Vidal" (2012), Bill Kauffman reported that Gore Vidal's favorite U.S. politician, during his lifetime, was Huey Long (1893–1935), the populist Governor (1928–32) and Senator (1932–35) from Louisiana, who also had perceived the essential, one-party nature of U.S. politics and who was assassinated by a lone gunman.
Despite that, Vidal said, "I think of myself as a conservative", with a proprietary attitude towards the U.S. "My family helped start [this country] ... and we've been in political life ... since the 1690s, and I have a very possessive sense about this country". Based upon that background of populism, from 1970 to 1972, Vidal was a chairman of the People's Party of the United States. In 1971, he endorsed the consumer-rights advocate Ralph Nader for U.S. president in the 1972 election. In 2004, he endorsed the Democrat Dennis Kucinich in his candidacy for the U.S. presidency (in 2004), because Kucinich was "the most eloquent of the lot" of presidential candidates, from either the Republican or the Democratic parties and that Kucinich was "very much a favorite out there, in the amber fields of grain".
The Truman Capote–Vidal feud
In 1975 Vidal sued Truman Capote for slander over the accusation that he had been thrown out of the White House for being drunk, putting his arm around the first lady and then insulting Mrs. Kennedy's mother. Said Capote of Vidal at the time: "I'm always sad about Gore – very sad that he has to breathe every day". Mutual friend George Plimpton observed "There's no venom like Capote's when he's on the prowl – and Gore's too, I don't know what division the feud should be in." The suit was settled in Vidal's favor when Lee Radziwill refused to testify on Capote's behalf, telling columnist Liz Smith, "Oh, Liz, what do we care; they're just a couple of fags! They're disgusting".
The Buckley-Vidal feud
In 1968, the ABC television network hired the liberal Gore Vidal and the conservative William F. Buckley, Jr. as political analysts of the presidential-nomination conventions of the Republican and Democratic parties. Their commentaries led to Buckley threatening to assault Vidal. After days of bickering, their debates degraded to vitriolic ad hominem attacks. In discussing the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests, the public intellectuals argued about the freedom-of-speech-right of American political protesters to display a Viet Cong flag, when Vidal told Buckley to "shut up a minute", after Buckley had interrupted him and in response to Buckley's reference to "pro-Nazi" protesters, said "As far as I'm concerned, the only sort of pro-crypto-Nazi I can think of is yourself". Buckley replied, "Now listen, you queer. Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi, or I'll sock you in the goddamn face, and you'll stay plastered". Their quarrel was interrupted by the ABC News anchorman-moderator Howard K. Smith and they returned to providing the political analysis and commentary for which they had been hired. Later, William F. Buckley said he regretted having called Gore Vidal "a queer" yet said that Vidal was an "evangelist for bisexuality".
In 1969, in Esquire magazine, Buckley continued his cultural feud with Vidal in the essay "On Experiencing Gore Vidal" (August 1969), in which he portrayed Vidal as an apologist for homosexuality; Buckley said, "The man who, in his essays, proclaims the normalcy of his affliction [i.e., homosexuality], and in his art the desirability of it, is not to be confused with the man who bears his sorrow quietly. The addict is to be pitied and even respected, not the pusher". The essay is collected in The Governor Listeth: A Book of Inspired Political Revelations (1970), an anthology of Buckley's writings from the time.
Vidal riposted in Esquire with the essay "A Distasteful Encounter with William F. Buckley, Jr." (September 1969) and said that Buckley was "anti-black", "anti-semitic" and a "warmonger". Buckley sued Vidal for libel; at trial, the judge said, that the "court must conclude that Vidal's comments, in these paragraphs, meet the minimal standard of fair comment. The inferences made by Vidal, from Buckley's [earlier editorial] statements, cannot be said to be completely unreasonable".
The feud continued in Esquire and Vidal implied that in 1944, William F. Buckley, Jr. and unnamed siblings had vandalized a Protestant church in Sharon, Connecticut (the Buckley family hometown) after the wife of a pastor had sold a house to a Jewish family. Buckley again sued Vidal and Esquire for libel and Vidal filed a counter-claim for libel against Buckley, citing Buckley's characterization of Myra Breckinridge (1968) as a pornographic novel. The court dismissed Vidal's counter-claim. Buckley accepted a money settlement of $115,000 to pay the fee of his attorney and an editorial apology from Esquire, in which the publisher and the editors said that they were "utterly convinced" of the untruthfulness of Vidal's assertions. In a letter to Newsweek magazine, the publisher of Esquire said that "the settlement of Buckley's suit against us" was not "a 'disavowal' of Vidal's article. On the contrary, it clearly states that we published that article because we believed that Vidal had a right to assert his opinions, even though we did not share them".
In Gore Vidal: A Biography (1999), Fred Kaplan said that "The court had 'not' sustained Buckley's case against Esquire ... [that] the court had 'not' ruled that Vidal's article was 'defamatory'. It had ruled that the case would have to go to trial in order to determine, as a matter of fact, whether or not it was defamatory. The cash value of the settlement with Esquire represented 'only' Buckley's legal expenses... ."
In 2003, William F. Buckley, Jr. resumed his complaint of having been libelled by Gore Vidal, with the publication of the anthology Esquire's Big Book of Great Writing (2003), which included Vidal's essay, "A Distasteful Encounter with William F. Buckley, Jr." (1969). Again, the offended Buckley filed lawsuit for libel and Esquire magazine again settled Buckley's claim with $55,000–65,000 for the fees of his attorney and $10,000 for personal damages suffered by Buckley.
In the obituary "RIP WFB – in Hell" (March 20, 2008), Vidal remembered his nemesis William F. Buckley, Jr., who had died on February 27, 2008. Later, in the interview "Literary Lion: Questions for Gore Vidal" (June 15, 2008), the New York Times reporter Deborah Solomon asked Vidal, "How did you feel, when you heard that Buckley died this year?" Vidal responded
I thought hell is bound to be a livelier place, as he joins, forever, those whom he served in life, applauding their prejudices and fanning their hatred.
The Buckley-Vidal debates, their aftermath and cultural significance, were the focus of a 2015 documentary film called Best of Enemies.
The Mailer-Vidal feud
On December 15, 1971, during the recording of The Dick Cavett Show, with Janet Flanner, Norman Mailer allegedly head-butted Vidal when they were backstage. When a reporter asked Vidal why Mailer had knocked heads with him, Vidal said, "Once again, words failed Norman Mailer". During the recording of the talk show, Vidal and Mailer insulted each other, over what Vidal had written about him, prompting Mailer to say, "I've had to smell your works from time to time". Apparently, Mailer's umbrage resulted from Vidal's reference to Mailer having stabbed his wife of the time.
The rights of German Scientologists
In 1997, Gore Vidal was one of thirty-four public intellectuals and celebrities who signed an open-letter addressed to Helmut Kohl, the Chancellor of Germany, published in the International Herald Tribune, protesting the treatment of Scientologists in Germany. Despite that stance as a dispassionate intellectual, Gore Vidal was fundamentally critical of Scientology as religion.
In 1999, in the lecture "The Folly of Mass Immigration", presented in Dublin, Vidal said
A characteristic of our present chaos is the dramatic migration of tribes. They are on the move from east to west, from south to north. Liberal tradition requires that borders must always be open to those in search of safety, or even the pursuit of happiness. But now, with so many millions of people on the move, even the great-hearted are becoming edgy. Norway is large enough and empty enough to take in 40 to 50 million homeless Bengalis. If the Norwegians say that, all in all, they would rather not take them in, is this to be considered racism? I think not. It is simply self-preservation, the first law of species.
The Polanski rape case
In The Atlantic magazine interview, "A Conversation with Gore Vidal" (October 2009), by John Meroney, Vidal spoke about topical and cultural matters of U.S. society. Asked his opinion about the arrest of the film director Roman Polanski, in Switzerland, in September 2009, in response to an extradition request by U.S. authorities, for having fled the U.S. in 1978 to avoid jail for the statutory rape of a thirteen-year-old girl in Hollywood, Vidal said, "I really don't give a fuck. Look, am I going to sit and weep every time a young hooker feels as though she's been taken advantage of?"
Asked for elaboration, Vidal explained the cultural temper of the U.S. and of the Hollywood movie business in the 1970s
The [news] media can't get anything straight. Plus, there's usually an anti-Semitic and anti-fag thing going on with the press – lots of crazy things. The idea that this girl was in her communion dress, a little angel, all in white, being raped by this awful Jew Polacko – that's what people were calling him – well, the story is totally different now  from what it was then [1970s]... . Anti-Semitism got poor Polanski. He was also a foreigner. He did not subscribe to American values, in the least. To [his persecutors], that seemed vicious and unnatural.
Asked to explain the term "American values", Vidal replied, "Lying and cheating. There's nothing better."
In response to Vidal's opinion about the decades-old Polanski rape case, a spokeswoman for the organization Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, Barbara Dorris, said, "People should express their outrage, by refusing to buy any of his books", called Vidal a "mean-spirited buffoon" and said that, although "a boycott wouldn't hurt Vidal financially", it would "cause anyone else, with such callous views, to keep his mouth shut, and [so] avoid rubbing salt into the already deep [psychological] wounds of (the victims)" of sexual abuse.
Vidal the HumanistActor
In April 2009, Vidal accepted appointment to the position of honorary president of the American Humanist Association he succeeded the novelist Kurt Vonnegut.
In the 1960s, Vidal migrated to Italy, where he befriended the film director Federico Fellini, for whom he appeared in a cameo role as himself in the film Roma (1972). He acted in the movies Bob Roberts (1992), a serio-comedy about a reactionary populist politician who manipulates youth culture to win votes; With Honors (1994) an Ivy league college-life comedy; Gattaca (1997), a science-fiction drama about genetic engineering; and Igby Goes Down (2002), a coming-of-age serio-comedy directed by his nephew, Burr Steers.Pop-culture figure
In the 1960s, the weekly American sketch comedy television program Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In featured a running-joke sketch about Vidal; the telephone operator Ernestine (Lily Tomlin) would call him, saying: "Mr. Veedul, this is the Phone Company calling! (snort! snort!)". The sketch, titled "Mr. Veedle" also appeared in Tomlin's comedy record album This Is a Recording (1972).
In 1967, Vidal appeared on the CBS documentary, CBS Reports: The Homosexuals, in which he expressed his views on homosexuality in the arts.
In the 1970s, in the stand-up comedy album Reality ... What a Concept, Robin Williams portrayed Vidal as a drunken shill in a Thunderbird wine commercial.
In 2005, Vidal portrayed himself in Trailer for the Remake of Gore Vidal's Caligula, a video-art piece by Francesco Vezzoli included to the 2005 Venice Biennale and part of the permanent collection of the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Moreover, Vidal provided his own voice for the animated-cartoon versions of himself in The Simpsons and the Family Guy programs. Likewise, he portrayed himself in the Da Ali G Show; the Ali G character mistakes him for Vidal Sassoon, a famous hairdresser.
In the biographic film Amelia (2009), the child Vidal was portrayed by William Cuddy, a Canadian actor. In the Truman Capote biographic film Infamous (2006), the young adult Vidal was portrayed by the American actor Michael Panes.
In 2009, Vidal was the narrator for a production of Mother Courage and Her Children (1939), by Bertolt Brecht, staged by the Royal National Theatre, London.
In the multi-volume memoir The Diary of Anaïs Nin (1931–74), Anaïs Nin said she had a love affair with Vidal, who denied her claim in his memoir Palimpsest (1995). Vidal also said that he had an intermittent romance with the actress Diana Lynn, and alluded to possibly having fathered a daughter. Yet, regarding Nin, in the online article "Gore Vidal's Secret, Unpublished Love Letter to Anaïs Nin" (2013), author Kim Krizan said she found an unpublished love letter from Vidal to Nin, which contradicts his denial of a love affair with Nin. Krizan said she found the love letter whilst researching Mirages, the latest volume of Nin's uncensored diary, to which Krizan wrote the foreword. Moreover, he was briefly engaged to the actress Joanne Woodward before she married the actor Paul Newman; after marrying, they briefly shared a house with Vidal in Los Angeles.
In 1950, Gore Vidal met Howard Austen, who became his partner for the next 53 years. He said that the secret to his long relationship with Austen was that they did not have sex with each other, "It's easy to sustain a relationship when sex plays no part, and impossible, I have observed, when it does." In Celebrity: The Advocate Interviews (1995), by Judy Wiedner, Vidal said that he refused to call himself "gay" because he was not an adjective, adding "to be categorized is, simply, to be enslaved. Watch out. I have never thought of myself as a victim... . I've said – a thousand times? – in print and on TV, that everyone is bisexual".
In an interview with Esquire in 1969, Gore said "Homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality. Notice I use the word natural, not normal." Commenting his life's work and his life, he described his style as "Knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn."
In the course of his life, Vidal lived at various times in Italy and in the United States. In 2003, as his health began to fail with age, he sold his Italian villa La Rondinaia (The Swallow's Nest) on the Amalfi Coast in the province of Salerno and he and Austen returned to Los Angeles. Howard Austen died in November 2003 and in February 2005 his mortal remains were re-buried at Rock Creek Cemetery, in Washington, D.C., in a joint grave plot that Vidal had purchased for himself and Austen.
In 2010 Vidal began to suffer from Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome, a brain disorder often caused by alcoholism. On July 31, 2012 Vidal died of pneumonia at his home in the Hollywood Hills at the age of 86. A memorial service was held for him at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in New York City on August 23, 2012. Vidal's body was buried next to Howard Austen in Rock Creek Cemetery, in Washington, D.C.
Postmortem opinions and assessments of Gore as a writer varied:
Domestic obituaries In Gore Vidal Dies at 86; Prolific, Elegant, Acerbic Writer,The New York Times described him as "an Augustan figure who believed himself to be the last of a breed, and he was probably right. Few American writers have been more versatile, or gotten more mileage from their talent". In Gore Vidal, Iconoclastic Author, Dies at 86, The Los Angeles Times said that he was a literary juggernaut whose novels and essays were considered "among the most elegant in the English language". In Gore Vidal Dies; imperious gadfly and prolific, graceful writer was 86, The Washington Post described him as a "major writer of the modern era ... [an] astonishingly versatile man of letters".
Foreign obituaries In the Gore Vidal Obituary, The Guardian said that "Vidal's critics disparaged his tendency to formulate an aphorism, rather than to argue, finding in his work an underlying note of contempt for those who did not agree with him. His fans, on the other hand, delighted in his unflagging wit and elegant style". In "Gore Vidal", The Daily Telegraph described the writer as "an icy iconoclast" who "delighted in chronicling what he perceived as the disintegration of civilisation around him". In Obituary: Gore Vidal, the BBC News said that he was "one of the finest post-war American writers ... an indefatigable critic of the whole American system ... Gore Vidal saw himself as the last of the breed of literary figures who became celebrities in their own right. Never a stranger to chat shows; his wry and witty opinions were sought after as much as his writing." In "The Culture of the United States Laments the Death of Gore Vidal", the Spanish on-line magazine Ideal said that Vidal's death was a loss to the "culture of the United States", and described him as a "great American novelist and essayist". In The Writer Gore Vidal is Dead in Los Angeles, the online edition of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera described the novelist as "the enfant terrible of American culture" and that he was "one of the giants of American literature". In Gore Vidal: The Killjoy of America, the French newspaper Le Figaro said that the public intellectual Vidal was "the killjoy of America" but that he also was an "outstanding polemicist" who used words "like high-precision weapons".
In memoriam On August 23, 2012, in the program a Memorial for Gore Vidal in Manhattan, the life and works of the writer Gore Vidal were celebrated at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, with a revival of The Best Man: A Play About Politics (1960). The writer and comedian Dick Cavett was host of the Vidalian celebration, which featured personal reminiscences about and performances of excerpts from the works of Gore Vidal by friends and colleagues, such as Elizabeth Ashley, Candice Bergen and Hillary Clinton, Alan Cumming, James Earl Jones and Elaine May, Michael Moore, Susan Sarandon, Cybill Shepherd and Liz Smith.