Philip Roth, one of the most prolific and celebrated writers of his generation, died Tuesday. He was 85, and a close friend, Judith Thurman, said the cause of death was congestive heart failure.
Between his first collection of stories, Goodbye, Columbus (1959), and his final novel, 2010's Nemesis, Roth won two National Book Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, the Man Booker International Prize, and three PEN/Faulkner Awards, among other honors. He is best known for his 1969 novel Portnoy's Complaint, and his literary explorations of life as an American, a Jew, and a man, and sex and lust. Many of his protagonists were thinly veiled versions of himself — Nathan Zuckerman, Alexander Portnoy, David Kepesh — and his work played with and blurred the lines between truth and fiction. "Making fake biography, false history, concocting a half-imaginary existence out of the actual drama of my life is my life," Roth told Hermione Lee in a 1984 interview in The Paris Review. "There has to be some pleasure in this life, and that's it."
Roth was born and raised in the Weequahic neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey, the setting for many of his novels. He was the younger of two sons of Herman Roth, a manager at Metropolitan Life, and Bess Roth née Finkel. He was married twice, the second marriage ending in 1994. Roth retired from writing in 2010 but didn't tell anyone for two years.
"In just a matter of months I'll depart old age to enter deep old age — easing ever deeper daily into the redoubtable Valley of the Shadow," Roth told The New York Times in January. "Right now it is astonishing to find myself still here at the end of each day. ... It's something like playing a game, day in and day out, a high-stakes game that for now, even against the odds, I just keep winning. We will see how long my luck holds out." Peter Weber