American author and political commentator Gore Vidal has died aged 86 at his home in Los Angeles.

Bernard Levin described Vidal’s third novel, The City and The Pillar, published in 1948 when he was 23 and written two years before as the “first serious American homosexual novel”.

The novel caused a furore for its dispassionate depiction of an athletic young man coming to terms with his homosexuality and fixation on tracking down the friend with him he had an adolescent gay experience.

Gore was forced to write under pseudonyms for years following the novel’s publication.

Reportedly a distant cousin of Jimmy Carter, Vidal’s mother married Hugh D. Auchincloss who became step-father to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

He ran for Congress twice, unsuccessfully, but became known widely in the US for his political commentary. He was described as the last century’s “finest essayist”. He was given the annual Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters by the National Book Foundation in 2009.

Connected for decades with the treatment of homosexuality in The City and The Pillar, in 1969 he wrote: “Certain societies at certain times, usually in the interest of maintaining the baby supply, have discouraged homosexuality. Other societies, particularly militaristic ones, have exalted it.

“But regardless of tribal taboos, homosexuality is a constant fact of the human condition and it is not a sickness, not a sin, not a crime [...] despite the best efforts of our puritan tribe to make it all three. Homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality.”

In total, he published 25 novels and more than 200 essays.

Mr Vidal’s nephew, director Burr Steers said he had been ill “for some time” before his death yesterday.