Bonfire of Vanities author Tom Wolfe dies aged 87


Tom Wolfe, the American journalist and author best known for The Bonfire of the Vanities, has died at 87, his agent has said.

The writer died of an infection in a hospital in New York on Monday, his agent Lynn Nesbit told The Associated Press. No further details were available.

As a reporter, Wolfe became part of the "new journalism" movement of the 1960s and 70s, which featured the likes of Truman Capote, Hunter S Thompson and Norman Mailer.

Described as a "chronicler and satirist of American culture", Wolfe believed that the only way to tell a great story was to go out and report it.

Image: Tom Wolfe seen in his usual dapper white suit

In his reporting, first with The Washington Post, then The New York Herald Tribune, he pioneered a "you-are-there", stream-of-consciousness, first-person perspective, which immersed both writer and reader in the narrative.

His first work of fiction turned out to be his most famous, the bestseller The Bonfire of the Vanities, an epic satire on social class, ambition, racism, politics and greed in 1980s New York.

Published in 1987, it became one of the best-selling books of the decade and has often been called the quintessential novel of the era.

Wolfe and his wife Sheila in New York in 2015
Image: Wolfe and his wife Sheila in New York in 2015

The film it spawned, however, was a critical and commercial flop, despite starring the likes of stars Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith and Kim Cattrall.

In a career spanning more than half a century, Wolfe wrote fiction and non-fiction bestsellers, starting with The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (1965).

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968) chronicled the rise of the hippy generation, while Radical Chic (1970) mocked the pretensions of Manhattan liberals and The Painted Word (1975) those of the art world.

Wolfe receives the  National Humanities Medal from President George W. Bush in 2002
Image: Wolfe receives the National Humanities Medal from President George W Bush in 2002

In 1979, he published The Right Stuff, a portrait of American heroism, viewed through the exploits of military test pilots and astronauts known as the Mercury Seven, which was made into a successful movie in 1983.

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Wolfe was well known for being a stylish dresser, often photographed in his trademark white suit.

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

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