Literary legend Gore Vidal died at his Hollywood Hills home on July 31 of complications from pneumonia. He was 86. Vidal was known for his eloquence and acerbic wit, and his storied career spanned every aspect of popular culture.

By Stephan Lee
August 10, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT

To call Vidal prolific would be an understatement. He wrote some 25 novels, including 1948’s The City and the Pillar, 1968’s Myra Breckinridge, and the controversial historical novels Burr (1973) and Lincoln (1984). But he was particularly renowned for his incisive essays, most of which centered on American politics and culture; his collection United States: Essays 1952-1992 won the National Book Award for nonfiction.

Vidal’s massive intellect and penchant for withering put-downs translated seamlessly to the screen. He gained notoriety for televised verbal tussles with conservative commentator William F. Buckley and rival writer Norman Mailer, but he also displayed a keen sense of humor in his regular visits to The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson, an awkwardly amusing interview with Sacha Baron Cohen on Da Ali G Show, and voice roles on The Simpsons and Family Guy.

In addition to writing screenplays (such as 1959’s Suddenly, Last Summer and 1980’s Caligula), Vidal appeared in several films, including Bob Roberts, Gattaca, Igby Goes Down, and Federico Fellini’s Roma.

A revival of his most famous work, The Best Man, is currently on Broadway, starring James Earl Jones. On Aug. 3, all theaters on the Great White Way dimmed their lights in honor of the literary titan.