Author Kurt Vonnegut, whose blend of satire, black comedy and science fiction in such novels as “Slaughterhouse-Five,” “Cat’s Cradle” and “Breakfast of Champions” made him an American counterculture icon, died Wednesday. He was 84.
Vonnegut, who often marveled that he had lived so long despite his life-long smoking habit, had suffered brain injuries after a fall at his Manhattan home weeks ago, said his wife, photographer Jill Krementz.
Vonnegut wrote plays, short stories and essays - some about his attempted suicide in 1985 - but it was his novels that made him a literary idol on college campuses across the country in the `60s and `70s.
His early works, including “Player Piano” and “Cat’s Cradle,” were mostly science fiction - if somewhat unorthodox - but he later changed the form of his work to produce the acclaimed, semiautobiographical “Slaughterhouse-Five,” published in 1969.
The novel centered on the firebombing of Dresden, Germany, by Allied forces in 1945, an event Vonnegut witnessed as a young prisoner of war. The work is generally considered to be one of the greatest American novels of the 20th century, and it made Vonnegut a household name at a time when the country was torn apart by the Vietnam War.
Vonnegut’s experiences in the war, in which he won a Purple Heart, formed the core of at least six of his 21 books.
Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis, where his father, Kurt Sr., worked as an architect. During the Depression, while his father was in a long stretch of unemployment, Vonnegut’s mother committed suicide - an act Vonnegut said haunted him all his life.
After the war, Vonnegut married his high school sweetheart, Jane Marie Cox, and settled in Chicago, where they had three children and he worked as a police reporter for the Chicago City News Bureau. He and Cox divorced in 1979.
With his second wife, Vonnegut adopted four children, three of them the offspring of a sister who had died of cancer.
In 1947, he moved to Schenectady, N.Y., took a public relations job with General Electric and, three years later, sold his first short story.
His first novel was “Player Piano,” a satire on corporate life published in 1952.
It was followed in 1959 by “The Sirens of Titan,” a science fiction novel featuring the Church of God of the Utterly Indifferent. In 1961, he published “Mother Night,” about an American writer awaiting trial in Israel on charges of war crimes in Nazi Germany.
In 1963, Vonnegut published “Cat’s Cradle,” which depicts a religion called Bokononism and the destruction of the world by a substance called ice-nine.
Novelist Gore Vidal once noted that Vonnegut was very different from the other major writers of his generation.
“He was imaginative; our generation of writers didn’t go in for imagination very much. Literary realism was the general style,” Vidal said. “Those of us who came out of the war in the 1940s made sort of the official American prose, and it was often a bit on the dull side. Kurt was never dull.”
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