Pulitzer Prize Winner Norman Mailer Dies
Leonhard Foeger/ Reuters/ Landov
11/10/2007 at 12:00 PM EST
Norman Mailer, perhaps the most towering figure in
20th-century American literature, died today of acute
renal failure at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City
at the age of 84, his literary executor said.
Boldly creative and defiantly original to the end, he
published two books this year, one about Hitler and
one about God, to cap a prodigious six-decade literary
career. Mailer barreled his way through a life that
was at least as dramatic and scandalous as that of any
character in his 10 novels.
He fought in a war and hung out with hippies; he
acted, directed and produced several films; he ran for
mayor of New York City; he brawled with men and women
alike; he befriended killers and bashed presidents; he
wrote some of the seminal works of the past century,
including 1948's The Naked and the Dead, the World War
II novel that made him famous, and 1979's spare and
powerful The Executioner's Song, which won him one of
his two Pulitzer Prizes.
Indeed, Mailer clearly relished his role as a
front-line chronicler of the American experience, allowing the
torrent of history to sweep from one adventure to the
next, fearlessly embracing risk and endlessly
indulging his obsessions with manhood and mortality. His
legacy will reflect an admittedly Promethean ego and
ruthless faith in his own intellect – as much as it will his
accomplishments as perhaps the most ambitious and
least compromising author of his time.
Mailer was born in Long Branch, N.J., on Jan.
31, 1923. His father was an accountant and his mother
ran a housekeeping and nursing agency. He grew up in
Brooklyn and studied aeronautical engineering at Harvard
before serving as an infantryman in the South Pacific
during World War II. His experiences there were the
basis for The Naked and the Dead, which launched his
parallel careers as a daring, important writer and a
Besides The Executioner's Song, which told the story
of the death of killer Gary Gilmore, Mailer would
never again receive as warm an embrace from critics as he
did during his early years as a writer; some of his
later, lengthy works, such as Ancient Evenings, would
be panned as staggeringly self-indulgent. But that
hardly seemed to matter: By the time he was 40, Mailer had
already secured his colossal reputation by helping
create an art form, "new journalism," which espoused
tough, personal reporting and a blurring of the lines
between story and storyteller.
He was not short on ego, but he made the whole
enterprise seem delightful, his fellow new journalist,
Tom Wolfe, told CNN after Mailer's death. "He was
a tremendous source of energy in the whole literary
world, he was a motor, a generator."
Mailer was married six times and had nine children, one of
them adopted. He spent much of his later life in an
Oceanside home in Provincetown, Mass.