The prolific, colorful writer and cultural critic, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, was 84

Norman Mailer
Credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Norman Mailer, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning works The Armies of the Night and The Executioner’s Song, along with countless other novels, screenplays, poems, and essays, died Saturday morning in New York City. He was 84.

Mailer shot to prominence with his first novel, 1948’s The Naked and the Dead, based on his experiences during World War II, when he served in the Army as a rifleman and then a sergeant. After a couple subsequent novels failed to ignite with audiences and critics, Mailer reinvented himself as a hipster, writing anti-Establishment essays, collected into volumes that became favorites of the Beat generation. He soon began penning politically charged essays for Esquire, and became a regular in gossip columns for his behavior (including an 1960 incident in which Mailer stabbed his second wife; following that attack, he was briefly held in New York’s Bellevue mental hospital).

Later in the ’60s Mailer hit his stride, writing books blasting the war in Vietnam and the Pentagon, including Why Are We in Vietnam? and Armies of the Night. During this period he also became a Hollywood personality, appearing on talk shows and trying his hand at filmmaking. He even ran for mayor of New York (unsuccessfully) in 1969.

Though the ensuing years would find Mailer’s reputation waning slightly, as some of his books were blasted by critics, he reinvigorated his career with 1979’s The Executioner’s Song, a true-life novel about a convicted murderer. He followed up that Pulitzer Prize-winning work with Ancient Evenings, about ancient Egypt, and a detective novel, Tough Guys Don’t Dance, which he turned into a movie starring Ryan O’Neal.

Well into his 80s, Mailer continued his work as a cultural critic, sharing his opinions on everything from technology (he loathed it) to the state of journalism to politics. (CNN)

Look for more on the legacy of Norman Mailer on in the coming days. And read EW’s last interview with the author, in which he ponders Hitler, God, and the Devil.