London — British Nobel laureate Harold Pinter — who produced some of his generation’s most influential dramas and later became a staunch critic of the U.S.-led war in Iraq — has died, his widow said Thursday. He was 78.
Pinter died Wednesday after a long battle with cancer, according to his second wife Antonia Fraser.
In recent years he had seized the platform offered by his 2005 Nobel Literature prize to denounce President George W. Bush, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the war in Iraq.
But he was best known for exposing the complexities of the emotional battlefield.
His writing featured cool, menacing pauses in dialogue that reflected his characters’ deep emotional struggles and spawned a new adjective found in several dictionaries: “Pinter-esque.”
“Pinter restored theater to its basic elements: an enclosed space and unpredictable dialogue, where people are at the mercy of each other and pretense crumbles,” the Nobel Academy said. “With a minimum of plot, drama emerges from the power struggle and hide-and-seek of interlocution.”
His characters’ internal fears and longings, their guilt and difficult sexual drives were set against the neat lives they constructed in order to try to survive. Usually enclosed in one room, the acts usually illustrated the characters’ lives as a sort of grim game with actions that often contradicted words. Gradually, the layers were peeled back.
“How can you write a happy play?” he once said. “Drama is about conflict and degrees of perturbation, disarray. I’ve never been able to write a happy play, but I’ve been able to enjoy a happy life.”
Pinter wrote 32 plays; one novel, “The Dwarfs,” in 1990; and put his hand to 22 screenplays.
The working-class milieu of his first dramas reflected his early life as the son of a Jewish tailor from London’s East End.
Born Oct. 30, 1930, in the London neighborhood of Hackney, he was forced along with other children during World War II to evacuate to rural Cornwall in 1939. He was 14 before he returned. By then, he was entranced with Franz Kafka and Ernest Hemingway.
By 1950, Pinter had begun to publish poetry and appeared on stage as an actor. Pinter began to write for the stage, and published “The Room” in 1957.
A year later, his first major play, “The Birthday Party” was produced in the West End.
In March 2005, Pinter announced his retirement as a playwright to concentrate on politics. But he created a radio play, “Voices,” that was broadcast on BBC radio to mark his 75th birthday.
Pinter’s influence was felt in the United States in the plays of Sam Shepard and David Mamet.
Friend and biographer Michael Billington said Pinter “was a political figure, a polemicist and carried on fierce battles against American foreign policy and often British foreign policy, but in private he was the most incredibly loyal of friends and generous of human beings.”
“He was a great man as well actually as a great playwright,” Billington said.