Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Edward Albee, whose provocative and often brutal look at American life in works such as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” earned him a reputation as one of the greatest American dramatists, died on Friday in Montauk, New York. He was 88.
He died in the late afternoon at his summer home in Montauk, a seaside fishing hamlet on the eastern tip of Long Island, after suffering a short illness to which he apparently succumbed, Albee’s assistant, Jakob Holder, told Reuters.
Holder said the playwright was not alone at the time of his death, but declined to furnish any further details.
Albee once told the Paris Review that he decided at age 6 that he was a writer but chose to work in the format of plays after concluding he was not a very good poet or novelist. His works would eventually rank him alongside Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neill in American drama.
Albee described a playwright as “someone who lets his guts hang out on the stage,” and the innards of his own works included a powerful anger as he pushed themes such as alienation, resentment and the dark underside of life in the 1950s.
In the preface to his play “American Dream,” Albee described his approach as “an examination of the American Scene … a condemnation of complacency, cruelty, emasculation, and vacuity … a stand against the fiction that everything in this slipping land of ours is peachy-keen.”
The harsh humor and ferocity that prevailed in his more than 25 works long divided critics and audiences, earning Albee as much condemnation as praise. He always returned the volley of attacks, calling his critics fools and his Broadway audiences “placid cows.”
“Art should expand the boundaries of the form and, simultaneously, it should change our perceptions,” he told his biographer. “I despise restful art.”