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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Writer Kurt Vonnegut Dead at 84

NEW YORK -- Kurt Vonnegut, the satirical novelist who captured the absurdity of war and questioned the advances of science in darkly humorous works such as "Slaughterhouse-Five" and "Cat's Cradle," died Wednesday. He was 84.

Vonnegut, who often marveled that he had lived so long despite his lifelong smoking habit, had suffered brain injuries after a fall at his Manhattan home weeks ago, said his wife, photographer Jill Krementz.

The author of 19 novels, many of them bestsellers, as well as dozens of short stories, essays and plays, Vonnegut relished the role of a social critic.

He lectured regularly, exhorting audiences to think for themselves and delighting in barbed commentary against the institutions he felt were dehumanizing people. "I will say anything to be funny, often in the most horrible situations," Vonnegut once told a gathering of psychiatrists.

A self-described religious skeptic and freethinking humanist, Vonnegut used protagonists such as Billy Pilgrim and Eliot Rosewater as transparent vehicles for his points of view. He also filled his novels with satirical commentary and even drawings that were only loosely connected to the plot. In "Slaughterhouse-Five," he drew a headstone with the epitaph: "Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt."

But much in his life was traumatic, and left him in pain. Despite his commercial success, Vonnegut battled depression throughout his life, and in 1984, he attempted suicide with pills and alcohol, joking later about how he botched the job. "I think 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," said Joel Bleifuss, editor of In These Times, a liberal magazine based in Chicago that featured Vonnegut articles.

Vonnegut's mother killed herself just before he left for Germany during World War II, where he was quickly taken prisoner during the Battle of the Bulge. He was being held in Dresden when Allied bombs created a firestorm that killed an estimated tens of thousands of people.

"The firebombing of Dresden explains absolutely nothing about why I write what I write and am what I am," Vonnegut wrote in "Fates Worse Than Death," his 1991 autobiography of sorts.

But he spent 23 years struggling to write about the ordeal, which he survived by huddling with other POWs inside an underground meat locker labeled slaughterhouse-five.

The novel, in which Private Pilgrim is transported from Dresden by time-traveling aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, was published at the height of the Vietnam War and solidified his reputation as an iconoclast.

"He was sort of like nobody else," said Gore Vidal, who noted that he, Vonnegut and Norman Mailer were among the last writers around who served in World War II. "He was imaginative; our generation of writers didn't go in for imagination very much. Literary realism was the general style. Those of us who came out of the war in the 1940s made it sort of the official American prose, and it was often a bit on the dull side. Kurt was never dull."

Vonnegut was born on Nov. 11, 1922, in Indianapolis. He adopted his sister's three young children after she died. He also had three children of his own with his first wife, Ann Cox, and later adopted a daughter, Lily, with his second wife, Krementz.