Counter-culture guru wrote 'Slaughterhouse'

Kurt Vonnegut Jr., writer of dark comic novels including “Slaughterhouse-Five,” died Tuesday in Manhattan. He was 84. Vonnegut suffered brain injuries as a result of a fall several weeks ago.

His novels became classics, particularly among young readers in the 1960s and ’70s.

His 14 novels included races he invented, impossible sci-fi phenomena and outlandish religions. While several were adapted for films, his vivid imagination sometimes proved difficult to translate to the screen, with George Roy Hill’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” one of the more successful attempts. Other adaptations, such as Alan Rudolph’s “Breakfast for Champions” and “Slapstick (of Another Kind)” were less successful.

Vonnegut was a prisoner of war in Dresden, Germany when he witnessed the firebombing by Allied forces, a brutal event which left a lasting influence on his work. “Slaughterhouse-Five,” published in 1969 during the Vietnam war, was based on his WWII experiences.

His novels combined fiction and autobiography in a freewheeling style which took liberties with structure and punctuation, yet Graham Greene called him “one of the most able of living American writers.”

Born in Indianapolis, his father was an architect who was often out of work during the Depression, while his mother suffered from mental illness and committed suicide. He attended Cornell U., and then studied mechanical engineering while in the Army. He had three children with Jane Marie Cox, his high school sweetheart, and adopted his sister’s three children after she died of cancer. He started out working as a police reporter in Chicago, then did public relations for General Electric in New York. He soon sold his first short story to Collier’s magazine and began writing short stories while working various jobs. His other novels include “Player Piano,” a satire on corporate life; sci-fi novel “The Sirens of Titan,” “Mother Night,” which became a film starring Nick Nolte; and “Cat’s Cradle.” After “Slaughterhouse-Five,” he suffered a severe depression, and then tried writing for the stage. “Happy Birthday, Wanda June” opened Off Broadway to mixed reviews.

He was divorced and then married photographer Jill Krementz, with whom he had a daughter.

His last novel, “Timequake” in 1997 revisited the his alter-ego character of Kilgore Trout first introduced in “Slaughterhouse-Five,” who also figured in “Breakfast of Champions.”

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