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Date Posted: 11:54:17 04/12/07 Thu
Author: strawberry shortcake
Author Host/IP: awfnt.awf.org /
Subject: non-john: R.I.P. Kurt Vonnegut

Author Kurt Vonnegut dies at 84

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Kurt Vonnegut, whose absurdist visions and cynical outlook infused such books as "Slaughterhouse-Five" and "Cat's Cradle," has died. He was 84.

Vonnegut died at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital at 9:45 p.m. ET Wednesday, said his wife, photographer Jill Krementz.

Vonnegut had been hospitalized for several weeks after suffering brain injuries following a fall at his East Side Manhattan home.

"Kurt was a loving, funny husband who always made me laugh," Krementz said. "He was a wonderful father who was proud and supportive of his children."

Vonnegut's novels and short stories, which blended humor, bitterness, profundity and a devout humanity, attracted a wide audience and made him a key figure in 20th-century American literature. (Share your memories of Vonnegut on our Marquee blog.)

"He was a man who combined a wicked sense of humor and sort of steady moral compass, who was always sort of looking at the big picture of the things that were most important," Joel Bleifuss, editor of the liberal magazine In These Times, told The Associated Press. Vonnegut occasionally contributed to In These Times.

Vonnegut was a frequent lecturer, telling audiences to be skeptical of authority and stay true to their humanity in a dehumanizing world.

"I will say anything to be funny, often in the most horrible situations," Vonnegut once told a gathering of psychiatrists, according to the AP.

Vonnegut made no apologies for his dark outlook. As a prisoner of war in the waning days of World War II, he witnessed the 1945 firebombing of Dresden, Germany, an event central to his breakout novel, "Slaughterhouse-Five."

His books often portrayed a world gone mad: the dystopian futures of "Player Piano" and "Slapstick," the whimpering death of the planet in "Cat's Cradle." The novels were sometimes banned from high school reading lists, but those decrees usually made students -- and thousands of others -- more determined to read them.

Vonnegut was an active member of PEN, the writers' aid group, and the American Civil Liberties Union, according to the AP. The American Humanist Association, a group that promotes individual freedom and scientific skepticism, made him its honorary president, the AP said.

His last book, "A Man Without a Country" (2005), took aim at the Bush administration, the Iraq war, corporate America and conformist Americans. The slim work became a best-seller, a status Vonnegut characterized as "a nice glass of champagne at the end of a life," according to the AP.

Wars and corporations
Kurt Vonnegut was born November 11, 1922, in Indianapolis, Indiana. His father was an architect; his mother was from a wealthy family. She committed suicide just before her son left for Germany in World War II, another event that would haunt Vonnegut's soul.

Vonnegut, who studied chemistry at Cornell University, had joined the military before receiving a degree. He was taken prisoner during the Battle of the Bulge and sent to a camp near Dresden, a city known for its architectural beauty.

From February 13 to 15, 1945, as he and his fellow prisoners worked in an underground meat locker, Allied forces firebombed the city. He was physically unharmed, but the mental anguish -- he was among those assigned to remove the scorched, blackened and often unrecognizable dead -- would torment him for years.

After the war, he married his high-school sweetheart, Jane Marie Cox, and settled in Chicago, Illinois. He did public relations for General Electric for a time in Schenectady, New York, an experience that informed 1952's "Player Piano" (which takes place in a company town called Ilium, New York).

His early novels -- also including "The Sirens of Titan" and "Mother Night" -- were lumped in with pulp science fiction and dismissed by critics. He started gaining a following with 1963's "Cat's Cradle," which featured a substance called ice-nine, which apocalyptically turns all water to ice.

His breakthrough, "Slaughterhouse-Five: Or The Children's Crusade, A Duty Dance With Death," dealt directly with the Dresden bombing. The novel tells the story of Billy Pilgrim, a soldier who becomes "unstuck in time" and comes into contact with space aliens called Tralfamadorians.

Vonnegut was fond of inventing nonsense words to define concepts, including "foma" (untruths that make one happy) and "granfalloons" (tribal identifications), both from "Cat's Cradle." He also created a number of signature phrases, notably "So it goes," a recurring line in "Slaughterhouse-Five."

Battle with depression
Vonnegut wrote several more novels after "Slaughterhouse-Five," including the best-sellers "Breakfast of Champions" (1973) and "Slapstick" (1976). His last novel, "Timequake," came out in 1997.

But he primarily devoted his later years to essays, some particularly scathing about the state of the world.

"I like to say that the 51st state is the state of denial," he told The Associated Press in 2005. "It's as though a huge comet were heading for us and nobody wants to talk about it. We're just about to run out of petroleum and there's nothing to replace it."

He was sometimes compared to Mark Twain -- in a statement about Vonnegut's death, Norman Mailer hailed him as "our own Mark Twain" -- and welcomed the association.

"My great-grandfather's name was Clemens Vonnegut. Small world, small world. This piquant coincidence is not a fabrication," Vonnegut said in a 2003 lecture.

"Clemens Vonnegut called himself a 'freethinker,' an antique word for humanist. ... So, 120 years ago, say, there was one man who was both Clemens and Vonnegut. I would have liked being such a person a lot."

Vonnegut struggled with depression throughout his life, and attempted suicide in 1984. He was, as always, honest about his battle.

"When Hemingway killed himself he put a period at the end of his life; old age is more like a semicolon," Vonnegut told the AP. "My father, like Hemingway, was a gun nut and was very unhappy late in life. But he was proud of not committing suicide. And I'll do the same, so as not to set a bad example for my children."

Vonnegut had three children with his first wife, whom he divorced in the 1970s, and adopted a daughter with Krementz, the AP said. He also adopted his sister's three children after she and her husband died, the AP reported.

"He was sort of like nobody else," fellow author Gore Vidal told the AP. "Kurt was never dull."

"He died at the top of his game, and I don't think anyone would ever want to do more than that," Krementz said.

As of early Thursday, funeral plans were pending. Memorial donations can be made to the Turtle Bay Association, a group dedicated to the East Side Manhattan neighborhood Vonnegut loved.

So it goes.

CNN Radio's Ninette Sosa contributed to this report.

Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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