Pulitzer Prize winner Norman Mailer dead of acute renal failure at age 84

Sunday, November 11, 2007
Norman Mailer, Pulitzer prize-winning author, is shown in in this Sept. 1984 file photo. Mailer, the macho prince of American letters who for decades reigned as the country's literary conscience and provocateur, died of renal failure early Saturday, his literary executor said. He was 84. (AP Photo/David Pickoff)

NEW YORK -- Norman Mailer, the pugnacious prince of American letters who for decades reigned as the country's literary conscience and provocateur with such books as "The Naked and the Dead" and "The Executioner's Song," has died at age 84.

Mailer died Saturday of acute renal failure at Mount Sinai Hospital, J. Michael Lennon, the author's literary executor and biographer, said.

"He was a great American voice," said a tearful Joan Didion, author of "The Year of Magical Thinking" and other works, struggling for words upon learning of Mailer's death.

From his classic debut novel to such masterworks of literary journalism as "The Armies of the Night," the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner always got credit for insight, passion and originality.

Mailer built and nurtured an image over the years as bellicose, streetwise and high-living. He drank, fought, smoked pot, married six times and stabbed his second wife, almost fatally, during a drunken party.

Author Norman Mailer spoke at an anti-war rally at the bandshell in New York City's Central Park on March 26, 1966. Mailer, the macho prince of American letters who for decades reigned as the country's literary conscience and provocateur, died of renal failure early Saturday, his literary executor said. He was 84. (Associated Press file)

He had nine children, made a quixotic bid to become mayor of New York City on a "left conservative" platform, produced five forgettable films, dabbled in journalism, flew gliders, challenged professional boxers, was banned from a Manhattan YWHA for reciting obscene poetry, feuded publicly with writer Gore Vidal and crusaded against women's liberation.

Norman Mailer was born Jan. 31, 1923, in Long Branch, N.J. His father, Isaac, a South Africa-born accountant, and mother, Fanny, who ran a housekeeping and nursing agency, soon moved to Brooklyn.

Mailer earned an engineering science degree in 1943 from Harvard University, where he decided to become a writer, and was soon drafted into the Army. Sent to the Philippines as an infantryman, he saw enough of soldiering to provide a basis for his first book, "The Naked and the Dead," published in 1948 while he was a postgraduate student in Paris.

Lennon said arrangements for a private service and burial for family members and close friends would be announced next week, and a memorial service would be held in New York in the coming months.

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