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Kurt Vonnegut dies at 84

My friend Messenger Puppet clued me in on this bit of sad news today (Mr. Kurt apparently influenced MP in weirdness at a very young age)…


Author Kurt Vonnegut dies at 84 – CNN.com

Author Kurt Vonnegut dies at 84

Story Highlights

  • Author Kurt Vonnegut suffered brain injuries in a fall weeks ago
  • An iconoclast, he exhorted audiences to think for themselves
  • As POW, he survived World War II firebombing in Germany
  • Dresden experience formed basis of “Slaughterhouse-Five”NEW YORK (CNN) — Kurt

Vonnegut, whose absurdist visions and cynical outlook infused such
books as “Slaughterhouse-Five” and “Cat’s Cradle,” has died. He was 84.Vonnegut died at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital at 9:45 p.m. ET Wednesday, said his wife, photographer Jill Krementz.

Vonnegut
had been hospitalized for several weeks after suffering brain injuries
following a fall at his East Side Manhattan home.

“Kurt was a
loving, funny husband who always made me laugh,” Krementz said. “He was
a wonderful father who was proud and supportive of his children.”

Vonnegut’s
novels and short stories, which blended humor, bitterness, profundity
and a devout humanity, attracted a wide audience and made him a key
figure in 20th-century American literature. (Share your memories of Vonnegut on our Marquee blog.)

“He
was a man who combined a wicked sense of humor and sort of steady moral
compass, who was always sort of looking at the big picture of the
things that were most important,” Joel Bleifuss, editor of the liberal
magazine In These Times, told The Associated Press. Vonnegut
occasionally contributed to In These Times.

Vonnegut was a
frequent lecturer, telling audiences to be skeptical of authority and
stay true to their humanity in a dehumanizing world.

“I will say
anything to be funny, often in the most horrible situations,” Vonnegut
once told a gathering of psychiatrists, according to the AP.

Vonnegut
made no apologies for his dark outlook. As a prisoner of war in the
waning days of World War II, he witnessed the 1945 firebombing of
Dresden, Germany, an event central to his breakout novel,
“Slaughterhouse-Five.”

His books often portrayed a world gone
mad: the dystopian futures of “Player Piano” and “Slapstick,” the
whimpering death of the planet in “Cat’s Cradle.” The novels were
sometimes banned from high school reading lists, but those decrees
usually made students — and thousands of others — more determined to
read them.

Vonnegut was an active member of PEN, the writers’ aid
group, and the American Civil Liberties Union, according to the AP. The
American Humanist Association, a group that promotes individual freedom
and scientific skepticism, made him its honorary president, the AP said.

His
last book, “A Man Without a Country” (2005), took aim at the Bush
administration, the Iraq war, corporate America and conformist
Americans. The slim work became a best-seller, a status Vonnegut
characterized as “a nice glass of champagne at the end of a life,”
according to the AP.

Wars and corporations

Kurt
Vonnegut was born November 11, 1922, in Indianapolis, Indiana. His
father was an architect; his mother was from a wealthy family. She
committed suicide just before her son left for Germany in World War II,
another event that would haunt Vonnegut’s soul.

Vonnegut, who
studied chemistry at Cornell University, had joined the military before
receiving a degree. He was taken prisoner during the Battle of the
Bulge and sent to a camp near Dresden, a city known for its
architectural beauty.

From February 13 to 15, 1945, as he and his
fellow prisoners worked in an underground meat locker, Allied forces
firebombed the city. He was physically unharmed, but the mental anguish
— he was among those assigned to remove the scorched, blackened and
often unrecognizable dead — would torment him for years.

After
the war, he married his high-school sweetheart, Jane Marie Cox, and
settled in Chicago, Illinois. He did public relations for General
Electric for a time in Schenectady, New York, an experience that
informed 1952’s “Player Piano” (which takes place in a company town
called Ilium, New York).

His early novels — also including “The
Sirens of Titan” and “Mother Night” — were lumped in with pulp science
fiction and dismissed by critics. He started gaining a following with
1963’s “Cat’s Cradle,” which featured a substance called ice-nine,
which apocalyptically turns all water to ice.

His breakthrough,
“Slaughterhouse-Five: Or The Children’s Crusade, A Duty Dance With
Death,” dealt directly with the Dresden bombing. The novel tells the
story of Billy Pilgrim, a soldier who becomes “unstuck in time” and
comes into contact with space aliens called Tralfamadorians.

Vonnegut
was fond of inventing nonsense words to define concepts, including
“foma” (untruths that make one happy) and “granfalloons” (tribal
identifications), both from “Cat’s Cradle.” He also created a number of
signature phrases, notably “So it goes,” a recurring line in
“Slaughterhouse-Five.”

Battle with depression

Vonnegut
wrote several more novels after “Slaughterhouse-Five,” including the
best-sellers “Breakfast of Champions” (1973) and “Slapstick” (1976).
His last novel, “Timequake,” came out in 1997.

But he primarily devoted his later years to essays, some particularly scathing about the state of the world.

“I
like to say that the 51st state is the state of denial,” he told The
Associated Press in 2005. “It’s as though a huge comet were heading for
us and nobody wants to talk about it. We’re just about to run out of
petroleum and there’s nothing to replace it.”

He was sometimes
compared to Mark Twain — in a statement about Vonnegut’s death, Norman
Mailer hailed him as “our own Mark Twain” — and welcomed the
association.

“My great-grandfather’s name was Clemens Vonnegut.
Small world, small world. This piquant coincidence is not a
fabrication,” Vonnegut said in a 2003 lecture.

“Clemens Vonnegut
called himself a ‘freethinker,’ an antique word for humanist. … So,
120 years ago, say, there was one man who was both Clemens and
Vonnegut. I would have liked being such a person a lot.”

Vonnegut
struggled with depression throughout his life, and attempted suicide in
1984. He was, as always, honest about his battle.

“When Hemingway
killed himself he put a period at the end of his life; old age is more
like a semicolon,” Vonnegut told the AP. “My father, like Hemingway,
was a gun nut and was very unhappy late in life. But he was proud of
not committing suicide. And I’ll do the same, so as not to set a bad
example for my children.”

Vonnegut had three children with his
first wife, whom he divorced in the 1970s, and adopted a daughter with
Krementz, the AP said. He also adopted his sister’s three children
after she and her husband died, the AP reported.

“He was sort of like nobody else,” fellow author Gore Vidal told the AP. “Kurt was never dull.”

“He died at the top of his game, and I don’t think anyone would ever want to do more than that,” Krementz said.

As
of early Thursday, funeral plans were pending. Memorial donations can
be made to the Turtle Bay Association, a group dedicated to the East
Side Manhattan neighborhood Vonnegut loved.

So it goes.

CNN Radio’s Ninette Sosa contributed to this report.

Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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