When Mailer was hip, throughout the Sixties and Seventies, he was extraordinarily famous and popular for one who was a proper intellectual and a proper writer. All his life he wanted to weave the great American novel. He sensed that he'd failed to do this but maybe he got it wrong. His conceived-as-a-potboiler The Executioner's Song certainly ranks right up there with The Great Gatsby or Franny and Zooey or Naked Lunch as a tome that really puts the screws to you. It - rather than the work of Burroughs or Kerouac - was the novel-of-choice for the punk generation. Its dark stark parched style ran parallel to a lot of work being done at that time by young punks. The interesting thing about it was that such an era-defining book was written by a man already into late middle age, the veteran of a Fifties bebop literary explosion. He was toweringly ambitious and competitive. He liked to be straddled up on top of an era, calling the shots. The last I saw of him was in the Deep Throat documenttary, Inside Deep Throat, yapping away merrily about nothing in particular, happy to be on-camera and in demand.
So it is sad that such an exuberant and talented man is gone.
Joe Ambrose has written 12 books, the most recent being Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. He is currently writing a book about the Spanish Civil War.