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Gore Vidal, best selling author and celebrated independent thinker, died at his home in the Hollywood Hills yesterday due to complications from pneumonia.

Hailed as one of America's greatest men of letters, Vidal contributed widely to American political life, from his high-profile commentating on his country's fierce militarism to his faithful chronicling of the major ebbs and flows of the United States in his 25 novels, numerous screenplays and 200 essays.

Gore Vidal made no attempt to disguise his controversial opinions and shady social activities: he stated in his memoir 'Palimpsest' that he had had over 1,000 'sexual encounters', was alleged to have had affairs with both men and women and claimed that he had sampled every major drug at least once.

His constant stream of outlandish statements, such as describing current president George W Bush as 'the stupidest man in the United States' amidst claims that the September 11 terrorist attacks were due to his incompetency, mockery of religion and open opposition to American militarism and political wars from Vietnam to Iraq, may have collectively contributed to his defeat when running for office twice.

Of course, his comments like 'The United States was founded by the brightest people in the country - and we haven't seen them since' did not help his cause.

Vidal did not hide his unease with the literary and political establishment, which is perhaps why he won surprisingly few major prizes and was initially declined membership into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

However, although Vidal was not recognised through awards, he certainly was widely admired; his novels and essays celebrated, with their fierce satirical nature lending them an important place in political history. 

Vidal was far more than just a novelist; he wrote for the screen, stage and dabbled in acting, famously appearing as a guest on The Simpsons in an episode called Moe'N'a Lisa and participating in a documentary about gay men in Hollywood entitled The Celluoid Closet.

Much of his writing was centred on homosexual characters, his most prodigious being Myra Breckenridge, the controversial story of a transsexual movie star. His 1948 novel The City and the Pillar was one of the first to include an openly gay character and was originally met with much disapproval.

Gore Vidal will always be remembered for his independent thinking, the vast body of work he produced during his lifetime and his unforgettable quotes, including the ever-controversial 'Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little'.

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Author and playwright Gore Vidal dies at 86
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