Tom Wolfe, Author of ‘The Right Stuff’, Dies at 88

By Atiya Riffat

Cover of “The Right Stuff,” the famous 1979 book by Tom Wolfe.

Tom Wolfe, who wrote “The Right Stuff” and a number of other iconic books, died at age 88 in New York City.

Wolfe’s agent Lynn Nesbit confirmed to the Associated Press that Wolfe died of an infection in a New York City hospital.

During a prolific career, Wolfe turned his scathing pen to pop culture, the hippie movement, the art world, LSD, race relations and the lives of astronauts.

The writer, known for his dapper style and signature white suits, became a star in his own right in the ’70s and ’80s, which was rare for a journalist. Wolfe worked at The Washington Post and the New York Herald Tribune, where he developed “New Journalism,” a style marked by interior monologues and eccentric language.

His notable works include “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” “The Right Stuff,” “The Last American Hero,” and “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” the last three of which were adapted into movies. The film version of “The Right Stuff,” about the Mercury Seven astronauts, was directed by Philip Kaufman in 1983. Wolfe penned the script, while Sam Shepard, Dennis Quaid, and Ed Harris starred in the film.

In 1968 he published two bestsellers on the same day: “The Pump House Gang,” made up of more articles about life in the Sixties, and “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” a non-fiction story about the hippie era.

The list went on with “Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers,” in 1970, a highly controversial book about racial friction in the United States.

Even more controversial was Wolfe’s 1975 book on the American art world, “The Painted Word,” which outraged many artists.

More recently, Wolfe published “I Am Charlotte Simmons” (2004) and “Back to Blood” (2013).

Wolfe was born in Richmond, Virginia, on March 2, 1930. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from Virginia’s Washington and Lee University in 1951 and a doctorate in American studies from Yale in 1957. Wolfe was also a talented baseball player, earning a tryout as a pitcher with the New York Giants shortly after graduating from college, according to The New York Times. Wolfe married Sheila Berger, the artistic director of Harper’s magazine, in 1978. They had two children.