Intended by his family to be a senator or even president, he opted out of politics in his prime because of his homosexuality and was beaten in two later bids for office in California and New York.
Setting out instead to become the pre-eminent writer of his time, he was judged by most measures to fall behind rivals such as John Updike, Saul Bellow and Philip Roth. He had to settle for being the greatest essayist of his age – a distinguished calling, but a devalued one – and the most brilliant talker of his times: an increasingly fashionable skill but far inferior, in Vidal's opinion, to literature. He was, though, an astonishingly entertaining conversationalist, in public and private, with some claim to be the most consistent wit since Oscar Wilde.
For as long as democracy lasts, people will quote the most brilliant of his many epigrams – "Politics is just showbusiness for ugly people" – and, for as long as competitive endeavour exists, will parrot his cruel but psychologically astute observation that: "It is not enough to succeed; others must fail." It is rare for a week to pass without one or both of these remarks being quoted approvingly somewhere.
He wasopen to the charge of namedropping, but claims of famous acquaintance were never faked: he had been a friend and relative of the Kennedys and, when I went to interview Vidal at his breathtaking clifftop villa on the coast of the Amalfi coast, there were photographs of him with Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, who were reputed to have taken refuge there during one of the presidential scandals. However, though distantly related to Clinton's vice-president, Al Gore, Vidal delighted in declining to meet a branch of the family he regarded as dull, grey sheep.
As often with Vidal, the remark about politics compensating the plain was double-edged. Famously attractive as a young man, he would have been a beautiful politician but, with the American electorate reluctant even now to back for most high offices candidates known to be gay, he was surely doomed to fail in the profession of his influential grandfather, Senator Gore of Oklahoma, who, being blind, relied on the newspapers being read to him by a group of assistants who included his grandson.
Read the full piece at The Guardian