Edward Albee, the acclaimed playwright responsible for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and hailed for his depictions of modern society, died Friday at his Montauk, New York home, his assistant told the Associated Press. He was 88 years old.
Albee, who began his career in the 1950s, produced some of the finest plays in modern American history, often taking on stereotypical American themes and culture with acerbic humor. His decorated career spanned five decades; he won three Pulitzer Prizes for Drama, two Tony Awards for Best Play, and a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Albee was born in March 12, 1928 and adopted by Reed and Frances Albee of Larchmont, New York. He eventually moved to New York City and took on a slew of jobs to support himself before breaking out in 1958 with The Zoo Story, a one-act play detailing a fateful interaction between an upper-class man and a down-on-his luck fellow seeking human interaction. It made its way Off-Broadway in 1960 after its Berlin premiere the previous year.
In 1962, Albee brought his opus Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to Broadway. The play introduced George and Martha, a middle-aged couple who engage in vicious mental abuse of each other and a young couple they invite over. The groundbreaking play was selected for a Pulitzer for Drama in 1963, but advisory board overruled the selection due to the play’s profanity. No award was given that year. Virginia Woolf did win a Tony and was made into a movie starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and directed by Mike Nichols; Taylor won an Oscar for her turn.
Albee later won three Pulitzers for A Delicate Balance (1967), Seascape (1975), and Three Tall Women (1994). Though he wrote through the 1980s, he received little attention in his later career until Three Tall Women. He was recognized by Kennedy Center Honors in 1996. Albee secured his second Tony in 2002 for The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? and earned a lifetime Tony in 2005.
Albee was openly gay, but did not seek to have that label define his career. He made comments at the 2011 Lambda Literary Awards rejecting being called “a gay writer,” saying he wanted the work to speak for itself.
“Maybe I’m being a little troublesome about this, but so many writers who are gay are expected to behave like gay writers, and I find that is such a limitation and such a prejudicial thing that I fight against it whenever I can,” he told NPR at the time. “Who goes around talking about abstract expressionist painters and making a definition or a distinction between those of them that were straight and those of them who were or are gay? Nobody does it. People only do it with writers, and I find that so ridiculous.”
His longtime partner, sculptor Jonathan Thomas, died in 2005 of cancer.