Saturday, November 10, 2007

Norman Mailer Dead at 84

The literary world has lost one of its "big name" authors with the death of Norman Mailer last night from renal failure. Bloomberg News has word from Mailer's official biographer:

Mailer died of renal failure at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, according to an e-mailed statement from J. Michael Lennon, the author's literary executor and official biographer. Mailer had been hospitalized last month for surgery to remove scar tissue on one of his lungs. He lived in Brooklyn, New York.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, the maverick author was perhaps more famous for his self-aggrandizing public behavior and grandiose ambitions than for his writing talent. There were six marriages, the stabbing of his second wife, the alcohol-infused fights and the feuds with literary figures such as Gore Vidal, all from a slight, curly-haired man. He even ran two quixotic campaigns to become New York City's mayor.
I have to admit that I was always somewhat turned off by Mailer's public persona and that, as a result, I paid very little attention to him as an author. I think that the only book of his that I've ever read, in fact, is The Executioner's Song, Mailer's nonfiction account of Gary Gilmore's crimes and eventual execution by firing squad in Utah. I found that book to be fascinating but it did not lead to more Norman Mailer reading.

Mailer was definitely one of those bigger-than-life characters who will be remembered for his celebrity status and he was capable of superb writing. I do have to wonder how much more he would have accomplished if his personal life had been a little more under control, but then he wouldn't have been "Norman Mailer."

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