Playwright wrote ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’
NEW YORK — Threetime Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Edward Albee, who challenged theatrical convention in masterworks such as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “A Delicate Balance,” died Friday, his personal assistant said. He was 88.
He died at his home in Montauk, east of New York City, assistant Jackob Holder said. No cause of death was given, although Albee had suffered from diabetes.
With the deaths of Arthur Miller and August Wilson in 2005, Albee was arguably America’s greatest living playwright.
Several years ago, before undergoing extensive surgery, Albee penned the following note to be issued at the time of his death: “To all of you who have made my being alive so wonderful, so exciting and so full, my thanks and all my love.”
Albee was proclaimed the playwright of his generation after his blistering “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” opened on Broadway in 1962. The Tonywinning play, still considered Albee’s finest, was made into an award-winning 1966 film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
The play’s sharp-tongued humor and dark themes were the hallmarks of Albee’s style. In more than 30 plays, Albee skewered such mainstays of American culture as marriage, child-rearing, religion and upper-class comforts.
“If you have no wounds, how can you know you’re alive?” a character asks in Albee’s 1996 “The Play About the Baby.”
Albee challenged audiences to question their assumptions about society and about theater itself. Playwright Edward Albee won three Pulitzer Prizes. His first was for “A Delicate Balance” in 1967.
“Plays are acts of protest meant to change people,” he once told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis.
His unconventional style won him great acclaim but also led to a nearly 20-year drought of critical and commercial recognition before his 1994 play, “Three Tall Women,” garnered his third Pulitzer Prize.
His other Pulitzers were for “A Delicate Balance” ( 1967) and “Seascape” (1975).
Many of his productions in the years after “Seascape” were savaged by the press as inconsequential trickery, a shadow of his former works.
But after “Three Tall Women,” a play he called an “exorcising of demons,” he had several major productions, including “The Play About the Baby” and “The Goat or Who Is Sylvia?,” which won him his second Tony for best play in 2002.
Many of his works had similar things in common: domestic rancor inflamed by booze, a sense of unknown anxiety, a lost child who creates a marital friction and precise but flailing language that alternates between comic and profound.
Albee was born in 1928 and was adopted by a wealthy suburban New York couple. His father, Reed Albee, ran the KeithAlbee chain of vaudeville theaters; his mother, Frances Albee, was a socialite and a commanding presence who kept a hold on him for much of his life.
Estranged from his parents, Albee moved to Manhattan’s Greenwich Village and worked as a messenger for Western Union before gaining notice with “The Zoo Story,” a one-act play about two strangers meeting on a bench in Central Park. Written in 1958, it was first produced in Berlin, translated into German.
With “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and 1964’s “Tiny Alice,” Albee shook up a Broadway that had been dominated by Tennessee Williams and Miller.
It won five Tonys including best play, actor (Arthur Hill) and actress (Uta Hagen), and the film version won five Oscars including best actress (Taylor) and supporting actress (Sandy Dennis).
Albee was honored by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 1996 for his lifetime contributions.
“I don’t like the idea of getting older and older because there’s meant to be a time when that has to stop,” Albee said in 2001. “Dying strikes me as being a great waste of time.”