Gore Vidal was a brilliant, forceful writer of fiction and nonfiction ... and a scathing critic of American politics and culture ... and surprisingly sensitive about human nature in some ways ... and sometimes just an out-and-out sour asshole, particularly as he got older.

Still, I greatly admired his writing, and his thinking, and now he's gone.

One of the regrettable things about moving through the middle part of your life is reading the obituaries of writers, artists, singers, actors and others in the world who meant a great deal to you, and realizing that you're likely to see most of them go by the end of your own run. By the year 2040, I'll be surrounded by my memories and that era's version of Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, with no clue as to who the hell they are.

Gore Vidal dies; imperious gadfly and prolific, graceful writer was 86

Gore Vidal, 86, a celebrated writer, cultural gadfly and occasional political candidate, died of pneumonia Tuesday at his Hollywood Hills home, according to a nephew. Known for his urbanity and wit — “Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little” — Vidal’s literary career spanned more than 60 years, and he once said that he hoped to be remembered as “the person who wrote the best sentences of his time.”

He was an astonishingly versatile man of letters and nearly the last major writer of the modern era to have served in World War II. Having resolved at age 20 to live by his pen, Vidal produced plays for television and Broadway, including the classic political drama “The Best Man”; helped script such movies as “Ben-Hur,” the 1959 epic starring Charlton Heston; and gained notoriety for the campy novel “Myra Breckinridge,” about a transsexual film enthusiast.

Vidal also won plaudits from scholars, critics and ordinary readers for historical novels such as the best-selling “Julian,” “Burr” and “Lincoln,” and English critic Jonathan Keates called him “the 20th century's finest essayist.” “United States,” which gathers Vidal’s essays on art, politics and himself, received the 1993 National Book Award. In print or on television — he was a frequent talk-show guest — the worldly Vidal provoked controversy with his laissez-faire attitude toward every sort of sexuality, his well-reasoned disgust with American imperialism and his sophisticated cynicism about love, religion, patriotism and other sacred cows.