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Truman Capote, the bluntly opinionated socialite-author of such best-selling...

By KAREN WEST

LOS ANGELES -- Truman Capote, the bluntly opinionated socialite-author of such best-selling books as 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' and 'In Cold Blood,' died Saturday. He was 59 years old.

Capote was found dead at the mansion of close friend Joanne Carson, the second wife of television star Johnny Carson, in the exclusive Bel-Air section of Los Angeles, police Cmdr. William Booth said.

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A cause of death had not been determined late Saturday, and an autopsy was scheduled for Sunday.

The author, who was to celebrate his 60th birthday next month, had been a guest at the home since Thursday and Ms. Carson 'was planning a birthday party for him,' homicide Lt. Edwin Henderson said.

Ms. Carson was going to wake Capote shortly before noon for a swim when she noticed he did not look right, Henderson said.

'She noticed his color was pale, she felt his forehead and noticed it was cool and attempted to find a pulse, but couldn't find one,' Henderson said.

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There was medication in the room where he was found dead, but police said they did not know if any drugs were involved in the death of the author, who has freely acknowledged having had bouts of alcohol and drug abuse.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Ms. Carson said Capote 'was in such great spirits last night,' but had been in ill health recently and was diagnosed as having phlebitis.

'He was my protector and my best friend,' she said, crying. 'What am I going to do without him?'

Capote considered himself a peer above peers among living U.S. novelists. He made this known in the summer of 1980 during an interview when he was asked what he felt was his next goal.

'There are three or four writers left in my generation in this race and I have this feeling that I am going to win it,' he said.

He was in his mid-50s at the time and he spoke slowly in a sing-song cadence.

Capote, who was born in New Orleans on Sept. 30, 1924, to a former Miss Alabama, became an overnight success with the publication of 'Other Voices, Other Rooms' in 1948. In the years that followed he wrote the best-sellling 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' and 'In Cold Blood,' which was hailed as a fine piece of close-up reporting on two condemned murderers.

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'When I wrote 'In Cold Blood' many were critical,' Capote said. 'I spent six years on that book wandering the plains of Kansas and nearly went mad but I saw it through. (Fellow author Norman) Mailer called it 'a failure of the imagination,' and now I see that the only prizes Norman wins are for that very same kind of writing. I'm glad I was of some small service to him.'

Capote's snip at Mailer was a continuation of a years-long feud with contemporary writers. Of Mailer he said:

'Norman was never a good novelist. Norman is a very, very good literary critic, even though he has some foolish ideas. His really strong talent was for reportage. I like him as a person, he is a very good writer but he was miscast in that role of novelist-filmaker.'

He also was unable to conceal his ill-feeling toward Gore Vidal.

'Gore's idiotic law suit against me has truly cost me a lot of money but I don't have any harsh feelings about Gore,' Capote said. 'I think Gore Vidal is a man with a first-rate mind who, if he used it as an essayist and critic where he genuinely excels, would be an important figure in American cultural life instead of being a peripheral and mediocre novelist.'

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During the interview he was asked if he still felt that a Jewish 'literary Mafia,' as he once put it, controlled the book-publishing empire.

'Well, time passes,' he said. 'There was a time, that all publications were edited and controlled by Jewish intellectuals and Jewish tycoons and they therefore over a period of 15 years pushed for Jewish writers.'

He said all this has changed.

'They tried to make a hero of Philip Roth but he's a very uneven writer,' he said. 'They lost their hero, (J.D.) Salinger.'

Capote wrote in the May 1982 issue of People magazine of his drug abuse, saying he once was a patient of Dr. Max Jacobson of New York City, whose license was revoked in 1975 for improper prescription of amphetamines.

'Ostensibly he was giving me vitamin injections,' Capote wrote, 'but actually they also had amphetamines in them.'

Capote, who frequented New York's Studio 54 in its heyday, was frequently in the company of such social luminaries as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Lee Radziwill, C.Z. and Winston Guest and Klaus and Martha 'Sunny' von Bulow.

He had homes on New York's Long Island and in Switzerland and California but preferred New York City as a permanent home.

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'It's like living in Forest Lawn (cemetery),' Capote said of Southern California. 'There is no intellectual life, only going to the studio and coming from the studio. San Francisco has a cozy drama to it, but it is one of the most provincial cities in the world. It's like a carousel, one sees the same people over and over in about 10 days.'

'I think Paris is very boring, Rome is just a small town pretending to be a city. In Moscow I die of sheer boredom, Venice is a gradually dying museum and Tokyo is hell on earth. I did like Kyoto, however, the parts of it I knew.'

New York, Capote said, is 'the only city I know that is a city city. It is going 24 hours a day. If you want to buy a book at 4 in the morning, you can buy a book.'

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