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Tom Wolfe, author of The Right Stuff dies at 88

News24 - Wednesday 16th May, 2018

New York - 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.

Wolfe's agent Lynn Nesbit told US media the writer died on Monday in a Manhattan hospital, where he was being treated for an infection.

"We are incredibly saddened to hear about the passing of Tom Wolfe," his publisher Picador said. "He was one of the greats and his words will live on forever."

During a prolific career, Wolfe turned his scathing pen to pop culture, the hippie movement, the art world, LSD, race relations and the lives of astronauts.

A dapper dresser and New York icon, Wolfe was known for his trademark white suits, homburg hats and white kid gloves.

Wolfe started his career as a newspaper reporter with the New York Herald-Tribune in 1962.

His first book, a collection of articles about the flamboyant Sixties, was published in 1965 as "The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby."

The book became a bestseller, and established Wolfe as a leading figure in the "New Journalism" movement, which also included in its ranks Hunter S. Thompson, Norman Mailer and Truman Capote.

Wolfe's 1979 bestseller "The Right Stuff" focused on the US astronauts involved in the space race with the Soviet Union.

It was made into a Hollywood hit starring Sam Shepard and made the Air Force test pilot Chuck Yeager, the first man to break the sound barrier, a household name.

Wolfe moved to writing novels in the mid-1980s, penning "The Bonfire of the Vanities."

A scathing takedown of greed and excess in New York, it was recognized as an essential American novel of the 1980s and was made into a film starring Tom Hanks.

Wolfe was born on March 2, 1930 in Richmond, Virginia, and never sought to rebel against his conservative, white bourgeois upbringing.

After studying at Washington and Lee University and Yale University, Wolfe began a 10-year-long newspaper reporting career.

In 1968 he published two bestsellers on the same day: "The Pump House Gang," made up of more articles about life in the Sixties, and "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," a non-fiction story about the hippie era.

The list went on with "Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers," in 1970, a highly controversial book about racial friction in the United States.

Even more controversial was Wolfe's 1975 book on the American art world, "The Painted Word," which outraged many artists.

More recently, Wolfe published "I Am Charlotte Simmons" (2004) and "Back to Blood" (2013).

Wolfe married Sheila Berger, the artistic director of Harper's magazine, in 1978. They had two children.

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