Edward Albee, Pulitzer-winning playwright of some of the most emotionally affecting works of his generation, has died at the age of 88 at his home in Montauk, Long Island.
His best-known and most-produced play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, is widely regarded as a 20th centruy theatrical masterpiece. He once described the play as an effort to dig “so deep under the skin that it becomes practically intolerable.” Anyone who has witnessed the explosive marriage of George and Martha, either on stage or in the 1966 film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, knows how close Albee hit his mark.
Below is an example of the kind of marital bloodsport the work is so famous for — “I swear if you existed I’d divorce you” —
While Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was denied the Pulitzer the year it came out (the 14-member advisory board was split, with some shocked at the language and abusive behavior), Albee did win the award for A Delicate Balance in 1967. “Well, you can’t lose them all,” director Mike Nichols cabled him
Elizabeth Taylor won the Academy Award for the film version, directed by Nichols.
Albee’s plays challenged the way we behave, to our loved ones, the world at large and ourselves. “Most people want tidy, frivolous stuff,” Albee told the Los Angeles Times in 2002, “so they can go home and not worry about what they’ve seen.”
Albee was out, though he rejected the label of “gay writer.”
“Maybe I’m being a little troublesome about this,” Albee told NPR’s Renee Montagne, “but so many writers who are gay are expected to behave like gay writers and I find that is such a limitation and such a prejudicial thing that I fight against it whenever I can.”
“A writer who happens to be gay or lesbian must be able to transcend self. I am not a gay writer. I am a writer who happens to be gay,” he said, somewhat ironically, while accepting an award for pioneering LGBT writers and publishers.
“I don’t find that much difference between straights and gays in the problems of life,” he told the New York Times in 1994. “I don’t believe in ghettoization.”
Other notable works include The Zoo Story, A Delicate Balance, The Sandbox, The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia, The Lady from Dubuqe and The American Dream.