- The Washington Times - Friday, April 13, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) — Kurt Vonnegut mixed the bitter and funny with a touch of the profound in books such as “Slaughterhouse-Five,” “Cat’s Cradle” and “Hocus Pocus.”

Mr. Vonnegut, regarded by many critics as a key influence in shaping 20th-century American literature, died Wednesday at 84. He had suffered brain injuries after a recent fall at his Manhattan home, said his wife, photographer Jill Krementz.

Mr. Vonnegut’s writing in more than a dozen books, short stories, essays and plays contained elements of social commentary, science fiction and autobiography.

Norman Mailer hailed Mr. Vonnegut as “a marvelous writer with a style that remained undeniably and imperturbably his own. … I would salute him — our own Mark Twain.”

“He was sort of like nobody else,” said another fellow author, Gore Vidal. “Kurt was never dull.”

A self-described religious skeptic and freethinking humanist, Mr. Vonnegut used protagonists such as Billy Pilgrim (“Slaughterhouse-Five”) and Eliot Rosewater (“God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater”) as transparent vehicles for his points of view.

Like “Catch-22,” by Mr. Vonnegut’s friend Joseph Heller, “Slaughterhouse-Five” was a World War II novel embraced by opponents of the Vietnam War, linking a so-called “good war” to the unpopular conflict of the 1960s and ‘70s.

Some of Mr. Vonnegut’s books were banned and burned for purported obscenity. He took on censorship as an active member of the PEN writers’ aid group and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Mr. Vonnegut said the villains in his books were never individuals but culture, society and history, which he said were making a mess of the planet.

“I like to say that the 51st state is the state of denial,” he told the Associated Press in 2005.

Mr. Vonnegut battled depression throughout his life, and in 1984, he attempted suicide with pills and alcohol, joking later about how he botched the job.

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

Mr. Vonnegut was born on Nov. 11, 1922, in Indianapolis, and studied chemistry at Cornell University before joining the Army. His mother killed herself just before he left for Germany during World War II, where he was quickly taken prisoner during the Battle of the Bulge. He was being held in Dresden when Allied bombs firebombed the German city.

His first novel, “Player Piano,” was published in 1952.

Critics ignored him at first, then denigrated his deliberately bizarre stories and disjointed plots as haphazardly written science fiction. But his novels became cult classics, especially “Cat’s Cradle” in 1963, in which scientists create “ice-nine,” a crystal that turns water solid and destroys the Earth.

Mr. Vonnegut retired from novel writing in his later years, but continued to publish short articles. He had a best-seller in 2005 with “A Man Without a Country,” a collection of his nonfiction.

Mr. Vonnegut adopted his sister’s three young children after she died. He also had three children of his own with his first wife, Jane Marie Cox, and later adopted a daughter, Lily, with his second wife.

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