Entertainment Books Pulitzer-winning author Philip Roth dies aged 85

Pulitzer-winning author Philip Roth dies aged 85

Phillip Roth pictured in 2014. Photo: Getty
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Author Philip Roth, who was both hailed and derided for laying bare the neuroses and obsessions that haunted the modern Jewish-American experience, has died at the age of 85.

His death was confirmed by his literary agent, Andrew Wylie, who said Roth died Tuesday night of congestive heart failure.

Roth wrote more than 30 books, including the 1991 memoir Patrimony, which examined his complex relationship with his father and won the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Roth’s best-known work was the 1969 novel Portnoy’s Complaint, a first-person narrative about Alexander Portnoy, a young middle-class Jewish New Yorker. The book featured several notorious masturbation scenes and a narrator who declared he wanted to “put the id back in yid.”

The book was banned by many libraries in the United States and also declared a “prohibited import” in Australia, but was removed from the federal banned list in June 1971.

Roth’s first published book was the 1959 novella and short-story collection Goodbye, Columbus, which won the National Book Award.

He won the Pulitzer Prize for 1997’s American Pastoral, which examined the impact of the 1960s on a New Jersey family. He also received the National Medal of Arts at the White House in 1998.

Philip Milton Roth was born on March 19, 1933, in Newark, New Jersey. The son of an insurance salesman, Roth earned a bachelor’s degree at Buckle University and a master’s degree in English from the University of Chicago.

He dropped out of the doctoral program in 1959 to write film reviews for the New Republic before Goodbye, Columbus came out.

Roth taught comparative literature, mostly at the University of Pennsylvania. He retired from teaching in 1992 as a distinguished professor of literature at New York’s Hunter College.

Roth had a long relationship with British actress Claire Bloom but their five-year marriage ended in divorce in 1995.

After more than 50 years as a writer, Roth decided that 2010’s Nemesis, the story of a polio epidemic in the Newark, New Jersey, neighbourhood where he grew up, would be his last novel.

He then went back and re-read all his works “to see whether I’d wasted my time,” he said in a 2014 interview published in the New York Times Book Review.

For his conclusion, he quoted Joe Louis, the heavyweight boxing champion of the 1930s and ’40s: “I did the best I could with what I had.”