NEW YORK – Norman Mailer, the combative, controversial and outspoken novelist who loomed over American letters longer and larger than any other writer of his generation, died early Saturday in Manhattan. He was 84. The cause was acute renal failure, his family said. Mailer burst on the scene in 1948 with “The Naked and the Dead,” a partly autobiographical novel about World War II, and for six decades he was rarely far from center stage. He published more than 30 books, including novels, biographies and works of nonfiction, and twice won the Pulitzer Prize: for “The Armies of the Night” (1968), which also won the National Book Award, and “The Executioner’s Song” (1979). He also wrote, directed and acted in several low-budget movies, helped found The Village Voice and for many years was a regular guest on TV talk shows, where he could be counted on to make oracular pronouncements and deliver provocative opinions, sometimes coherently and sometimes not. Mailer belonged to the old literary school that regarded novel-writing as a heroic enterprise undertaken by heroic characters with egos to match. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREStriving toward a more perfect me: Doug McIntyre He was the most transparently ambitious writer of his era, seeing himself in competition not just with his contemporaries but with the likes of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. He was also the least shy and risk-averse of writers. He eagerly sought public attention. He was a celebrity long before most authors were lured into the limelight. At different points in his life, Mailer was a prodigious drinker and drug-taker, a womanizer, a devoted family man, a would-be politician who ran for mayor of New York, a hipster existentialist, an anti-war protester, an opponent of women’s liberation and an all-purpose feuder and short-fused brawler, who with the slightest provocation would happily engage in head-butting, arm-wrestling and random punch-throwing. Boxing obsessed him and inspired some of his best writing. Any time he met a critic or a reviewer, even a friendly one, he would put up his fists and drop into a crouch. He transformed American journalism by introducing to nonfiction writing some of the techniques of the novelist and by placing at the center of his reporting a brilliant, flawed and larger-than- life character who was none other than Norman Mailer himself. Norman Kingsley – or, in Hebrew, Nachem Malek – Mailer was born in Long Branch, N.J., on Jan. 31, 1923. His father was Isaac Barnett Mailer, a South African emigre; his mother was the former Fanny Schneider, who came from a vibrant clan in Long Branch. When Norman was 9, the family moved to Brooklyn. In 1939, he enrolled as a 16-year-old freshman at Harvard, where he intended to major in aeronautical engineering but fell in love with literature. Mailer graduated from Harvard in 1943, determined on a literary career. He was drafted in 1944 and was sent to the Philippines. Mailer saw little combat and finished his Army career as a cook in occupied Japan. But his wartime experience became the raw material for “The Naked and the Dead,” which remains his greatest literary and commercial success. Mailer drifted for much of the 1950s, frequently drunk or stoned or both. In 1960, he stabbed and seriously wounded his second wife, Adele Morales. She declined to press charges. Mailer ran for mayor of New York in 1969 as a secessionist candidate, campaigning to make New York City the 51st state. In the 1970s, Mailer entered into a long feud with feminists and proponents of women’s liberation, and in a famous 1971 debate with Germaine Greer at Town Hall in Manhattan he declared himself an “enemy of birth control.” In 1977, Mailer began receiving letters from Jack Henry Abbott, a Utah prison inmate. Mailer saw literary talent in Abbott’s letters and helped him publish them in an acclaimed volume called “In the Belly of the Beast.” He also lobbied to get Abbott paroled. In 1981, a few weeks after being released, Abbott, by then a darling in leftist literary circles, killed a man in New York, and his champion became a target of national outrage. The episode was the last great controversy of Mailer’s career. Chastened perhaps, and stabilized by his marriage to Norris Church, a former model whom he wed in 1980, Mailer mellowed and even turned sedate. The former hostess-baiter and scourge of parties became a regular guest at black-tie benefits and dinners. Mailer’s later important works include “Ancient Evenings” (1983), a lengthy tale of pharaonic Egypt; “Tough Guys Don’t Dance” (1984), a quickly written thriller that Mailer called his personal favorite; “Harlot’s Ghost” (1991), a complex story about the CIA; and “The Gospel According to the Son” (1997), a first-person novel about Jesus. Mailer was married six times, counting a quickie with Carol Stevens, whom he wed and divorced within a couple of days in 1980 to grant legitimacy to their daughter, Maggie. Besides Morales, Stevens and Church, his other wives were Bea Silverman, Lady Jeanne Campbell and Beverly Rentz Bentley. His marriage to Church lasted until his death. By his various wives, Mailer had eight children, all of whom survive him. Also surviving are an adopted son and 10 grandchildren. Perhaps uncharacteristically, Mailer was an old-fashioned, attentive father. The financial burden of supporting his offspring, as well as keeping up with alimony payments, caused him to churn out several novels and articles for a quick payday. At his death, Mailer was writing a sequel to “The Castle in the Forest” (2007), a story about Hitler narrated by the devil. He was a tireless worker, and if some of his books were not as good as he had hoped, none was forgettable or without his distinctive stamp. MOST NOTABLE Norman Mailer published more than 30 books in a career of almost 60 years. These are among his most notable: “The Naked and the Dead” (1948): Called one of the greatest war novels ever, and not without reason. In certain ways it was apprentice work, and parts of it now seem a little old-fashioned, but it’s still a work or tremendous power and vividness. “Advertisements for Myself” (1959): Essentially a collection of Mailer’s Village Voice columns, this volume offers the earliest sustained glimpse of his characteristic, full-throated journalistic style: brash, hip, provocative, ironic and self-regarding. “The Armies of the Night” (1968): This account of the 1967 protest march against the Pentagon created what came to be called the nonfiction novel, journalism that employed many of the techniques of novel writing. One main character is Mailer himself. “The Executioner’s Song” (1979): An account of the life and death of Gary Gilmore that many critics regard as Mailer’s true masterpiece. He invented a brand-new voice for himself here: part literary ventriloquism, part pure style. “Ancient Evenings” (1983): An immensely long book about ancient Egypt that is easily Mailer’s most ambitious novel. Maddening at times, brilliant at others; an imaginative tour de force. “Tough Guys Don’t Dance” (1984): Mailer’s own favorite of all his books is a taut, dark thriller that he knocked off in a couple of months to pay the bills. “Harlot’s Ghost” (1991): A densely plotted novel about the CIA, which Mailer invests with near-mythological properties. The title character is based loosely on James Jesus Angleton, the CIA’s chief of counterintelligence. – The New York Times160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!