THE BLOG

Vidal's Death

31/07/2014 14:26 BST | Updated 29/09/2014 10:59 BST

(This piece originally was a personal diary entry, and I now reprise its principal contents in honour of Gore Vidal's two year anniversary, today - Thursday, July 31rst, 2014. It has only yet been read by two close friends, Paul and John. Printed here specially in memoriam.)

On the ominous morning of Tuesday, July 31rst, 2012, there was a glum weather forecast published by a newsrag of ill repute, which shall not named for that very reason. Grey clouds were looming across the city of Dublin. The slang term for which, here in Ireland, is an Irishman's Hurricane. Summer was ending, and latched onto me that morning, was a thundering hangover, and I was, unknowingly, about to get a different kind of jolt after I stumbled into work late that afternoon, following a prolonged night on the piss. Each awakening I am graced with every morning is immediately followed by an eager checking of the news. So disorientated I was that particular instance, I so carelessly passed on doing a news check that terrible morning. Awaiting my presence, however enfeebled as I was, my manager offered, "I take it you are late because of the news, I know you are probably upset". How odd an exclamation to make thought I. When he informed my hungover self, I wished that knowledge of it came in a different way. As is life, things never quite happen as you anticipate them. On that dreadful Tuesday morning - mourning? - in his home on The Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles, Gore Vidal died. Since the fact I did shed a tear from my icy interior, disproving claims from some anti-admirers of a frosty personality. I had since reprimanded myself for such apparent silliness because I had not known him, as they say, personally. But then, in some ways, I knew him too well. He knew everyone worth knowing. Had met every single American President during his lifetime, and criticized them each without mercy. Everyone remarkable from Hollywood to Washington DC, European cultural life to late night television. The sharpest tongue in the west, and the most poison pen in American letters. As a writer, he was the last of the best, and the best of the century last. Gore was the finest writer of the last half century in the English language.

"Thy hand, great anarch, lets the curtain fall,

And universal darkness buries all."

~ The last line of 'The Dunciad', Alexander Pope.

Gore regularly eloquently pronounced himself as a 'Gentleman Bitch'. Once asked how he might like to be remembered, if at all, by the paper he despised the most, The New York Times, Gore replied "I couldn't give a fuck". On asked what retirement meant to him, he said, "Death". His ultimate revenge on the New York Times was that their obituary of him engendered in one of, if not, their largest correction ever. They got everything wrong. As usual, Gore might have quipped. Once exiting a hotel by revolving door, a hotel doorman is said to have said "Have a nice day, Sir", to which Gore snapped, "I have other plans". On seeing former Secretary of State to Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, innocently observing the notorious hell section at an event in The Sistine Chapel, Gore quickly announced to a packed room, "Look, Henry is apartment shopping". On being told of the death of his old enemy Truman Capote, Gore is said told his publisher Jason Epstein that it was a "Good career move". Of reviews, he said, "I don't even read most reviews unless there is a potential lawsuit on view". Of the death of his rival "William F. Buckley, whom he referred to as 'The Marie Antoinette of American politics', he said, "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". On the then newly elected American President Ronald Reagan, he said "Well, I suppose its better than the old folks home". Never was he stuck for comment, ever, and his comments on the world tended to sick in ones mind. Though, he also gave sound advice to those unsure about their place in the world, he wrote "What matters most is not the worlds judgment of oneself, but ones own judgment of the world".

Gore died of complications from Pneumonia at six in the evening. 86 was his last number. At three in the afternoon, his doctor had given him some leg exercises to do. Whilst doing them, he uttered: "Stop it". Those words were his last ones. Not quite as fashionable as some, Dylan Thomas, for instance: "Eighteen Straight Whiskeys . . . I think that's the record." Or the words uttered by Oscar Wilde three weeks before his death, which many mistake for his last ones: "This wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. Either it goes or I do." The wallpaper won. The late Christopher Hitchens, whom Gore wrote to nominating him as his 'Delfino' or 'Successor', once sat on a panel in New York to review the life and work of Oscar Wilde. His fellow panelist was, Hitchens wrote in an essay "that heroic old queen Quentin Crisp". When prompted as to whether there was an Oscar Wilde in the margin of their own time, the moderator proposed Gore, "Once that name was mentioned", wrote Hitchens, "there didn't seem to be any obvious rival". Nor can I myself propose one such to be better fitted.

Essentially, he had been bed-ridden since March that year. I still have his home address. I could - should - have written him. I didn't. Coward. Probably, he was in his wheelchair, cane by his side, quasi-papal ring still on his old and thin finger. Most of his time was supposed to be spent in his second floor study, that an old friend, Diana Phipps, copied from a picture of the writer Macauley's book-lined study. This the house he bought in 1977, March 24th, not long after he bought the Italian Villa in La Rondinaia in Ravello, his other home. Not many people know, but Gore was originally intending to move to County Cork, Ireland, before he picked Rome. Charles Haughey lost an election to be Taoiseach and Gore was unable to make the move for some reason as a result.

The writer most admired by Gore, was Frenchman Michel De Montaigne, whom was born in 1533. Montaigne was to Gore, what Gore is to me. A literary forefather. Often, I would lengthy talk about writers to my close friends at the risk of being boring, Paul and John included, others, too. Now, since Gore's death, I never do. This is really is the first major discussion of him given. Once Gore actually died, I was distressed on realizing that there was no one to take his place. Hitchens was dead from Esophageal cancer. It is therefore up to me to attempt to take up the mantel. "The only rational way of educating", wrote Albert Einstein in his letter to a young girl, "is to be an example - if one cannot help it, a warning example".

Two excerpts:

The first, from 'Point to Point Navigation', his second memoir. On watching his lifelong friend of 56 years, Howard Auster, die of cancer right on front of him:

" "Don't you want to talk?" I asked. There was a long silence, then he shook his head.

"Why not?"

"Because," he said, "there's too much to say . . ."

The second, from 'Palimpsest', his first memoir:

"By choice and luck, my life has been spent reading other peoples books and making sentences for my own. More to the point, if you have known one person you have known them all. Of course, I am not so sure that I have known even one person well, but, as the Greeks sensibly believed, should you get to know yourself, you will have penetrated as much of the human mystery as anyone need ever know".

For Gore Vidal, whom died two years ago today. And for my friends, whom graciously put up with my caroling on about him. Thank you.