Skip to main content

Cavett: Gore Vidal hates being dead

By Dick Cavett, Special to CNN
August 2, 2012 -- Updated 2010 GMT (0410 HKT)
Gore Vidal, the eclectic writer who faithfully chronicled the major shifts and upheavals in the United States, appears at a Rome literary festival in 2006. Vidal died Tuesday, July 31, of complications from pneumonia, a nephew said. He was 86. Gore Vidal, the eclectic writer who faithfully chronicled the major shifts and upheavals in the United States, appears at a Rome literary festival in 2006. Vidal died Tuesday, July 31, of complications from pneumonia, a nephew said. He was 86.
HIDE CAPTION
Gore Vidal through the years
Gore Vidal through the years
Gore Vidal through the years
Gore Vidal through the years
Gore Vidal through the years
Gore Vidal through the years
Gore Vidal through the years
Gore Vidal through the years
Gore Vidal through the years
Gore Vidal through the years
Gore Vidal through the years
Gore Vidal through the years
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dick Cavett: Unless there's debauchery, talk in the afterlife, Gore Vidal hates being dead
  • Cavett says his friend was a wonderful talker and witty, eloquent and prolific writer
  • Cavett: You can't think ill of one who said, "Success is not enough. One's friends must fail"

Editor's note: Dick Cavett is an online columnist, contributor to The New York Times Opinionator blog, author of "Talk Show" and Emmy-winning, TV talk-show host.

(CNN) -- You can be sure of one thing. Gore Vidal hates being dead.

Unless of course we die and go somewhere where you can write, drink, have sex, appear on TV and, above all else, talk.

I once asked Gore his philosophy of how to conduct your life. The immediate answer: "Never turn down an opportunity for sex or being on TV."

He wrote enough for 10 men. Aside from his prodigious output of novels, historic and political essays, movies, TV scripts and hit plays, he was -- I feel safe in saying -- the best talker since Oscar Wilde.

Dick Cavett
Dick Cavett

I got to spend a lot of time with Gore, on and off the air, and there was always a sort of afterglow. You felt you had just had a lovely bath in the elegant and witty use of our sadly declining English language. Gore's talk, if transcribed, could be printed without editing. If there seemed to be some preening in his prepared remarks on television -- and he knew a good line was worth repeating -- it was outweighed by the quality of the verbal prose.

In my notorious show known now through the ages as "Cavett's Mailer/Vidal Fight," there was a particular answer of Gore's to a challenge by Norman Mailer that actually got applause for, I think, its simple elegance: Gore had gotten a laugh, a feat difficult for Mailer to achieve. The exchange went:

Writer Gore Vidal dies at 86
Remembering Vidal
2009: Vidal on same-sex marriage

Mailer: Why don't you try to talk just once, Gore, without yuks? Why not just talk to me instead of talking to the audience?

Vidal: Well, by a curious thing we have not found ourselves in a friendly neighborhood bar, but both, by election, are sitting here with an audience, so therefore it would be dishonest of us to pretend otherwise (applause).

Hard to imagine Mitt Romney fashioning that sentence.

Much ink was spilled all over the country about that show. Asked by a journalist what comment he had about Mailer's head-butting him backstage, Gore said, "Once again, words failed Norman Mailer."

Opinion: Vidal's magnificent strengths, appalling weaknesses

My late wife and Gore became great friends. They laughed constantly together, often on the subject of their mutual knowledge of dwelling in the American South. Gore's favorite was her description of an elegant family dinner table in Mississippi with much lace and candles and crystal and the elderly matriarch -- bedecked in rich brocade and a jeweled tiara -- making her way unsteadily to the table after a touch or two of bourbon and Seconal upstairs.

Moments later, when she pitched forward into the cold soup, a family member, wielding a napkin and skilled in Deep South euphemism, would invariably say, "Mama's tired."

Gore later signed a book to my late wife, "For Carrie Nye: So tah'd. Gore."

She always said of him that for a man who describes himself as bisexual, "Gore really, really likes women."

Like all writers (it's almost safe to say) he was a big drinker. (See Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Cheever, Mailer, et al.) I once startled Gore by saying I'd just read that each drink kills more than 10,000 brain cells. He paled. "But you've got billions of brain cells," I reassured him. Gore responded: "But I've had billions of drinks."

Quotes of his are collected. It would be hard to dislike a man who was opposed to gay marriage "... because heterosexual marriage is such a disaster, why would anyone want to imitate it?" Or of Andy Warhol: "The only genius I've ever known with an IQ of 60."

Opinion: My friend, il maestro Gore Vidal

I don't have Gore's exact wording, but he once urged the idea that anyone who professes himself qualified to run for president of the United States should be immediately stopped and prevented from doing so.

He once made the statement -- only partially seriously? -- that the country's problems were all potentially curable by the simple method of listening to what he said.

He ran the only witty political campaign this side of Adlai Stevenson. He likely would not have made a great occupant of the Oval Office, but imagine the fun of those press conferences!

I once did a half-hour show, seen on PBS, with Gore from his fabulous castle-like home perched above a gorgeous valley at Ravello, Italy. Jet lag awoke me early one morning, and I peeked into his closed writing room. An old-style Royal typewriter sat at the precise center of a long, heavy antique table. Books extended outward from both sides of the typewriter for a couple of feet in both directions, all of them written by the occupant. I closed the door again, quietly, and got my breath.

The fact that some feel his greatest work is in his collected essays should be a word to the wise. They're stunning.

What a man and what a loss. I don't see how anyone could say or think anything negative about one who said, "Success is not enough. One's friends must fail."

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dick Cavett.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2235 GMT (0635 HKT)
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 0148 GMT (0948 HKT)
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2208 GMT (0608 HKT)
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT