Who says tough guys don’t dance? Norman Mailer danced with the best of them, and he didn’t give a fug whether you liked it or not. Oh, he had the talent, all right; and every once in a while he actually showed it, as with the Pulitzer-winning “The Executioner’s Song,” the fact-as-fiction story of Gary Gilmore. He liked to play tough and talk tough and maybe he was; he head-butted Gore Vidal once, stabbed his second wife after a party, and ran for mayor of New York, hardly an act for sissies.
But there was no dancing around the fact that he was also egotistical, egocentric, arrogant, gruff, self-aggrandizing, self-indulgent, and less talented than his own opinion. CNN called him a drama king, but he was a drama queen as well. He was over the top with his own lefty pronouncements, often spectacularly uneducated on the topics he discussed, and frequently acted as if calling attention to himself was far more important than the quality of what he wrote – and what’s it to you if he was? He was a blowhard who didn’t care if you blew back. He danced with his talent, a dance that often fooled others into overlooking the fact that there was more style than substance in his words. In reality, there should have been more than met the eye, but when the eye blinked that was all there was.
Maybe he even thought he was tough enough for the Grim Reaper, but it caught up with him this weekend at the age of 84, and this was one dance in which he didn't do the leading. And the toughest thing about it all is that he could have been better than he was, even if he never wound up being as good as he thought he could have been. The lesson, to all writers and tough guys and everyone else out there, is to not leave it on the table. Don’t be left when the clock strikes zero asking what might have been.