He slept with Kerouac, hung out with Jackie O and feuded with Mailer. He’s the last surviving giant of American literature’s golden age. So why is Gore Vidal still so sensitive about his reputation?
Interview by Robert Chalmers in The Independent:
Seventeen years have passed, I remind Gore Vidal, since he told a reporter: “This is the last interview I shall ever give. I am in the departure lounge of life.” “So where are you now? Tray table in the upright position, footrest stowed, taxiing towards the runway?”
The writer gives me a mutinous look. “How do you know that I didn’t leave? Actually, I’m more fearful of airplanes than I am of my own mechanism, because I know how to run it.
I’ve had diabetes for 20 years. I have a titanium knee. Which is quite strong. But don’t ask for it in the middle of the night.”
With Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller and Norman Mailer gone, Gore Vidal, 82, is the last truly legendary figure from a golden age of American literature. “Serene” is his favourite word, though this is an adjective he employs rather than evokes: headlines he has inspired include “Into The Lion’s Den” and “Cross Him If You Dare”. That said, he looks tranquil enough this afternoon, an elderly ginger cat dozing on his knee, and a half-finished tumbler of whisky by his side. The expression he wears in photographs from his prime – a curious mixture of disdain and sensuality – has not altogether faded.