" . . . A Calamity For American Letters."

Tue, 14 Dec 1999 06:52:52 EST

*** 'Catch-22' author Heller dies at 76

NEW YORK (AP) - Joseph Heller, whose darkly comic first novel
"Catch-22" defined the paradox of the no-win dilemma and added a
phrase to the American lexicon, died of a heart attack at his East
Hampton home. He was 76. Heller died Sunday night, according to his
wife, Valerie. Published in 1961 to mixed reviews, "Catch-22" became
a cult favorite before it was recognized as an American classic. It
eventually sold more than 10 million copies in the United States
alone. "Oh, God, how terrible," author and friend Kurt Vonnegut, who
last spoke to Heller a week ago, said Monday. "This is a calamity for
American letters." Arthur Gelb, former managing editor of The New
York Times and a longtime friend and New York City neighbor of
Heller's, described a dinner party in East Hampton last month.

"He had this never-flagging satirical wit that was always
entertaining - except when you were in the path of one of his
acerbic bullets. But that evening, he was sweet-tempered and
somewhat subdued," Gelb said. "I asked him if he was feeling well. He
said he regretted to report that age appeared to be mellowing him and
that people would have to stop referring to him as a curmudgeon."
Heller based "Catch-22" on his experience in the Army Air Force
during World War II. He was a bombardier in combat over Italy and
flew 60 missions before he was discharged at war's end. See

*** For excerpts from Joseph Heller's works, see