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Tom Wolfe, pyrotechnic nonfiction writer and novelist, dies at 87

16 May 2018

Author Tom Wolfe, the acerbic chronicler of American society known for The Right Stuff and "The Bonfire of the Vanities, has died at the age of 88". He had been hospitalised with an infection.

Tom Wolfe, the author and journalist known for pioneering New Journalism, has died.

Speaking about Wolfe's style, writer Joseph Epstein wrote in The New Republic: "His prose style is normally shotgun baroque, sometimes edging over into machine-gun rococo, as in his article on Las Vegas which begins by repeating the word "hernia" 57 times".

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In his fifties, Wolfe made a belated detour into fiction with The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987), an epic tale of greed and avarice among Manhattan's elite that became a literary sensation before being disastrously adapted for the screen by director Brian De Palma, resulting in one of the most notorious box-office bombs in Hollywood history.

He had resided in New York since starting at the New York Herald Tribune as a reporter back in 1962.

Wolfe then enrolled in Washington and Lee University.

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In a span of 16 years, Wolfe produced nine nonfiction books, including one of his most famous, "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test", in which he hit the road in a psychedelic bus with writer Ken Kesey and his so-called band of Merry Pranksters bent on turning the world on to LSD. I wanted to do New York High and Low.

"His work changed my life and convinced me to write nonfiction", bestselling writer Susan Orlean wrote of Wolfe in a Twitter post on Tuesday. Starring Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis and Melanie Griffith, it was a commercial and critical flop. He rose to fame for his essays and bold arguments coupled with exhaustive reporting, peaking with the book The Right Stuff in 1979, which focused on the first American astronauts and the Mercury space program.

Wolfe is survived by his wife, Sheila, and his children, Alexandra and Tommy.

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Tom Wolfe, pyrotechnic nonfiction writer and novelist, dies at 87