Norman Mailer, Towering Writer With a Matching Ego, Dies at 84 By CHARLES McGRATH Norman Mailer, the combative, controversial and often outspoken novelist who loomed over American letters longer and larger than any other writer of his generation, died early yesterday in Manhattan. He was 84. The cause was acute renal failure, his family said. Mr. 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 Executioners 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 television talk shows, where he could reliably be counted on to make oracular pronouncements and deliver provocative opinions, sometimes coherently and sometimes not. Mr. Mailer belonged to the old literary school that regarded novel writing as a heroic enterprise undertaken by heroic characters with egos to match. 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, and publicity inevitably followed him on the few occasions when he tried to avoid it. His big ears, barrel chest, striking blue eyes and helmet of seemingly electrified hair jet black at first and ultimately snow white made him instantly recognizable, a celebrity long before most authors were lured out into the limelight. At different points in his life Mr. 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 antiwar protester, an opponent of womens 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. Gore Vidal, with whom he frequently wrangled, once wrote: Mailer is forever shouting at us that he is about to tell us something we must know or has just told us something revelatory and we failed to hear him or that he will, God grant his poor abused brain and body just one more chance, get through to us so that we will know. Each time he speaks he must become more bold, more loud, put on brighter motley and shake more foolish bells. Yet of all my contemporaries I retain the greatest affection for Norman as a force and as an artist. He is a man whose faults, though many, add to rather than subtract from the sum of his natural achievements. Norman Kingsley or, in Hebrew, Nachem Malek Mailer was born in Long Branch, N.J., on Jan. 31, 1923. His father, Isaac Barnett Mailer, known as Barney, was a South African émigré, a snappy dresser he sometimes wore spats and carried a walking stick and a largely ineffectual businessman.