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Tom Wolfe, best-selling novelist and journalist, dies at 88

The author fused literary flair with journalistic rigor in a career that spanned decades.
by Daniel Arkin /  / Updated 

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Tom Wolfe, the author whose groundbreaking and radiant journalism helped create a new genre of nonfiction in books like "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" and "The Right Stuff," has died. He was 88.

Wolfe's death was confirmed by his agent, Lynn Nesbit.

Wolfe, always impeccably attired and often spotted strolling around New York City in his signature white three-piece suit, was one of the leading practitioners of so-called New Journalism, a style that fused novelistic flair with traditional reporting.

He chronicled the social upheavals of America, immersing readers in everything from the California hippie counterculture to the space race. He peppered his writing with gleeful punctuation and memorable phrases — coining era-defining expressions like "radical chic" and "the Me Generation."

He later enjoyed a successful career as a novelist skewering New York high society with the best-seller "The Bonfire of the Vanities." The book, a portrait of greed and power in cash-flush 1980s Manhattan, was later adapted into a film starring Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis.

Nesbit, his agent, did not offer further detail on Wolfe's death. But she referred to an article in The Wall Street Journal, where she was quoted as saying:

"He is not just an American icon, but he had a huge international literary reputation. All the same, he was one of the most modest and kindest people I have ever met. I never exchanged a cross word with him in our many years of working together.”

Wolfe, who was born in Richmond, Virginia, was the grandson of a Confederate rifleman. He launched his journalism career as a reporter at The Springfield Union in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1957. He later moved to The Washington Post, where he covered U.S.-Cuban affairs and other news.

But he achieved his greatest national notoriety with a stream of wildly innovative pieces at New York magazine and Esquire, joining writers like Gay Talese and Truman Capote in crafting a kaleidoscopic style that was by turns bombastic and incisive.

He is survived by his wife, Sheila, and their two children.

CORRECTION (May 15, 2018, 12:30 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated Wolfe's age at his death. He was 88, according to his agent, not 87.

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