Tom Wolfe dies

HAD ‘RIGHT STUFF’

New York Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - BY LARRY McSHANE

WHEN IT CAME to style, both lit­er­ary and sar­to­rial, Tom Wolfe re­mained in a class all his own.

The im­pec­ca­bly at­tired writer and peer­less practitioner of the ground­break­ing “New Jour­nal­ism” died Mon­day of an in­fec­tion at an un­spec­i­fied Man­hat­tan hospi­tal, said his agent Lynn Nes­bit.

Wolfe, 88, earned his spot as one of the great Amer­i­can writ­ers of the 20th cen­tury with his deep re­port­ing dives for books like “The Right Stuff” and “The Elec­tric Kool-Aid Acid Test.”

After nine non­fic­tion ef­forts, he used the same tech­nique to write fic­tion, in­vest­ing the time and re­port­ing that in­formed “The Bon­fire of the Van­i­ties,” his scathing 1987 satire on New York City.

“Noth­ing fu­els the imag­i­na­tion more than real facts do,” Wolfe once noted.

“Bon­fire” was ded­i­cated to crim­i­nal de­fense at­tor­ney Ed Hayes, who served as Wolfe’s guide on a jour­ney through the daunt­ing Bronx crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem.

Among the sub­jects of Wolfe’s inim­itable writ­ing, with its no-de­tail-spared ap­proach, were the first U.S. as­tro­nauts, the LSD-lov­ing Merry Pranksters and feck­less Man­hat­tan limou­sine lib­er­als.

Along with writ­ers Tru­man Capote and Gay Talese, Wolfe — a fan of French nov­el­ist Emile Zola — emerged in the 1960s as one of the driv­ing forces be­hind the New Jour­nal­ism.

The long­time Up­per East Sider once said the genre’s method­ol­ogy com­bined the emo­tional im­pact of fic­tion, the anal­y­sis of the best es­says and the deep dig­ging of the best re­port­ing.

“He was an in­cred­i­ble writer,” said Talese. “And you couldn’t im­i­tate him. When peo­ple tried, it was a dis­as­ter. They should have got­ten a job at a butcher’s shop.”

His unique ap­proach was hardly lim­ited to writ­ing. Wolfe’s daily attire typ­i­cally fea­tured a three­piece suit, of­ten white, along with a high-col­lared shirt, two-tone shoes and a silk tie.

Wolfe’s best sell­ers ran the gamut from “The Right Stuff,” his riv­et­ing ac­count of Amer­ica’s first as­tro­nauts, to fact-based fic­tion like “Bon­fire.”

His first pass at the lat­ter was pub­lished, one chap­ter every two weeks, in Rolling Stone mag­a­zine — Wolfe’s homage to the se­ri­al­ized 19th cen­tury tales of Charles Dick­ens and Wil­liam Make­peace Thack­eray.

“How I shall miss that swirling script on the hand­writ­ten notes, the flair of your white suit en­ter­ing a room!” tweeted mag­a­zine ed­i­tor Tina Brown. “You were the best of the best.”

Wolfe went boldly over the top with his writ­ing, his tales rife with ex­cla­ma­tion points, ital­ics and phrases plucked from the ether as he pounded on a vin­tage type­writer.

“Fuhged­dabou­dit” served as his one-stop New York dis­missal for ev­ery­thing, while “rad­i­cal chic” cap­tured his take on the causes of limou­sine lib­er­als.

His per­sonal fa­vorite of the Wolfe-coined terms: “Good ol’ boy,” from a 1964 mag­a­zine piece about stock car driver Ju­nior John­son.

In 1998’s “A Man in Full,” Wolfe de­scribed a morn­ing on a Ge­or­gia mil­lion­aire’s spread: “Some­how noth­ing re­minded him so in­tently of how far he had come in his 60 years on Earth as the smell of the an­i­mals.

“Turpm­tine Plan­ta­tion! Twenty-nine thou­sand acres of prime south­west Ge­or­gia for­est, fields and swamp! It was his, to do with as he chose, which was: to shoot quail.”

In 1978, Wolfe mar­ried Harper’s mag­a­zine art di­rec­tor Sheila Berger. He was sur­vived by his wife and their two chil­dren, Alexan­dra and Tommy.

Tom Wolfe (left), a pi­o­neer of the “New Jour­nal­ism,” turned his tal­ents to New York City in the satir­i­cal novel “Bon­fire of the Van­i­ties.”

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