Fri, Apr 13, 2007 - Page 7 News List

US literary cult hero Kurt Vonnegut dies in Manhattan at 84

COUNTERCULTURE IDOL Vonnegut became a cult hero when his bestseller Slaughterhouse-Five hit No. 1, although it was banned by many libraries


US literary idol Kurt Vonnegut, best known for such classic novels as Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle, died on Tuesday night in Manhattan at age 84, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.

Vonnegut, who had often marveled that he had lived so long despite his lifelong smoking habit, had suffered brain injuries after a fall at his Manhattan home weeks ago, said his wife, photographer Jill Krementz.

Vonnegut, born in Indianapolis in 1922, also wrote plays, essays and short fiction. But his novels -- 14 in all -- became classics of US counterculture. He was a literary idol, particularly to students in the 1960s and 1970s, the Times said.

The defining moment of Vonnegut's life was the firebombing of Dresden, Germany by Allied Forces in 1945, an event he witnessed as a young prisoner of war, the newspaper said.

Dresden was the basis for Slaughterhouse-Five, which was published in 1969 against the backdrop of war in Vietnam, racial unrest and cultural and social upheaval, the Times said.

Vonnegut became a cult hero when the novel reached No. 1 on best-seller lists, the article said, adding that some schools and libraries have banned the book because of its sexual content, rough language and depictions of violence.

The novel featured a signature Vonnegut phrase, "so it goes," which became a catch phrase for opponents of the Vietnam war.

After the book was published, Vonnegut went into severe depression and vowed never to write another novel. In 1984, he tried to take his life with sleeping pills and alcohol, the report said.

Vonnegut's books were a mixture of fiction and autobiography, prone to one-sentence paragraphs, exclamation points and italics, the report said.

Some critics said he had invented a new literary type while others accused him of repeating himself, of recycling themes and characters. Some readers found his work incoherent.

Cat's Cradle was published in 1963 and although it initially sold only about 500 copies it is widely read today in high school English classes, the newspaper said.

Vonnegut's last book, published in 2005, was a collection of biographical essays, A Man Without a Country. It, too, was a best seller, the newspaper said.

Indianapolis, his hometown, declared this year as "The Year of Vonnegut" -- an announcement he said that left him "thunderstruck."

Vonnegut, a fourth-generation German-American, is survived by his wife, the photographer Jill Krementz, their daughter and his six other children, the Times said.

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