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Tom Wolfe, author of ‘The Right Stuff’, dies at 88

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Author Tom Wolfe, the acerbic chronicler of American society known for best-selling books “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 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 flamboyant pen and keen eye to pop culture, the hippie movement, the art world, race relations and Wall Street.

But he is perhaps best known for his non-fiction bestseller “The Right Stuff” about the US space program and the original Mercury astronauts.

The 1979 book was made into a Hollywood hit starring Sam Shepard and Ed Harris and made test pilot Chuck Yeager, the first man to break the sound barrier, a household name.

Wolfe is credited with contributing the phrase “the right stuff” and another from the book, “pushing the envelope,” to the American lexicon.

Among those paying tribute to Wolfe on Tuesday was American astronaut Scott Kelly.

“He changed my life, and I am grateful I was able to thank him for the wildly unrealistic dream he gave me as an 18 year old boy,” Kelly tweeted. “He was the #RightStuff.”

– ‘New Journalism’ –

Wolfe’s first book, “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby,” published in 1965, was born out of a collection of articles about the 1960s he wrote for Esquire and New York magazines.

The book became a bestseller and placed Wolfe alongside other figures in the “New Journalism” movement, which also included Hunter S. Thompson, Norman Mailer and Truman Capote.

Instead of keeping a distance from their subjects, “New Journalism” practitioners often adopted an unconventional stylistic approach and perspective.

Wolfe published two bestsellers in 1968 — “The Pump House Gang” and “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” for which he spent time with “The Merry Pranksters,” a band of LSD-taking travelling hippies led by Ken Kesey, author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

His 1970 book “Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers,” examined racial tensions in the United States and lampooned some of the good intentions of New York liberals in awkward detail.

Wolfe’s 1975 book about the US art world, “The Painted Word,” outraged many artists with its depiction of an insular village.

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.

Like “The Right Stuff,” the book also contributed a phrase — in this case “master of the universe” — to the American vocabulary.

“Bonfire” was made into a 1990 film starring Tom Hanks, Melanie Griffith and Bruce Willis.

– Started as newspaper reporter –

Another novel, “A Man in Full,” was published in 1998 and also made it to the New York Times bestseller list.

More recently, Wolfe published “I Am Charlotte Simmons” (2004) and “Back to Blood” (2012).

Thomas Kennerly Wolfe was born on March 2, 1930 in Richmond, Virginia.

After studying at Washington and Lee University and getting his PhD in American studies from Yale University, Wolfe began a 10-year-long career as a newspaper reporter.

He joined the Springfield (Massachusetts) Union in 1956 before going on to work for The Washington Post and the New York Herald-Tribune.

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

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


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