Tom Wolfe, the New Journalism pioneer, novelist, and one of the 20th century’s most prolific writers, has died. After publishing The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test in 1968, Wolfe is largely credited with introducing Ken Kesey, the Merry Pranksters, and LSD culture to a larger, mainstream American audience.
A native Virginian known for his love of dapper white linen suits (he once described his aesthetic as “neo-pretentious”), Wolfe began his career in writing at newspapers in the late 1950s. Eschewing the traditional tenets of journalistic reporting for a free-form series of observations and emotions, Wolfe’s New Journalism style took off, with countless writers, novelists, and artists mimicking his signature prose for decades to come.
By the 1960s, Wolfe had become fascinated with the Bay Area’s growing counterculture and engrained himself in the world of acid-eaters, Merry Pranksters, and Hell’s Angels. Wolfe’s first-person accounts of California’s free love scene, compiled in Electric Kool-Aid, were released just months before the Golden State’s famous Summer of Love. Interestingly, in an interview with Rolling Stone decades after the infamous tome was published, Wolfe said that he never actually tried LSD himself.
“This stuff was too powerful. I kept running into people who were having flashbacks. I managed to get inside other people without doing it,” Wolfe told the magazine last year. “And maybe I’m wrong, but I found that just by talking to people about the trips, I got a lot of, I think, good material.”
Further, though he spent large portions of his life embedded with societies on the American fringe, Wolfe told interviewers from CNN in 2008 that he had only tried marijuana once.
In the decades after he penned Acid Test, Wolfe accrued even more international fame with his 1987 debut novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities. The book was a well-researched, witty, and engaging exploration of New York City’s widening class gap, racism and the so-called Masters of the Universe — the Wall Street traders who had come to signify Manhattan’s monied elite.
As he aged, Wolfe continued to offer cultural criticism and publish novels, making waves in the mid-2000s with his vocal support of then-president George W. Bush. He released his last work of literature, Back to Blood, in 2012.
Wolfe passed away on Monday due to complications from an unspecified infection. To this day, he remains one of the most lauded and successful writers of the 20th century. RIP to the OG.
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