NOVELIST Philip Roth, who died on Tuesday, did not just write “the most obscene, pornographic book of all time” — he could also do the dirty in real life in spectacular fashion.
Once, the Portnoy’s Complaint author faxed ex-wife Claire Bloom a demand for $62BILLION as a fine for the pain her existence caused him — $1billion for every year she had been alive.
Reuters Philip Roth pictured posing in New York City in 2010 Random House Roth's controversial breakthrough novel Portnoy's Complaint
Then there was the time he announced he would no longer let actress Claire’s teenage daughter live with them, because she was “boring”.
But Roth, who died of heart failure in New York aged 85, never pretended to be perfect — and parading his imperfections in gruesome and hilarious detail made him one of America’s literary greats.
Portnoy’s Complaint turned him into an instant superstar when it was published in 1969 and soon denounced as the most pornographic book of all time by the likes of then-US President Richard Nixon.
The “complaint” suffered by lead character Portnoy is an addiction to masturbation, sometimes with the help of props ranging from a cored apple to an old sock and even a piece of liver.
Getty – Contributor With wife and actress Clair Bloom in the couple's living room
Its graphic nature led to fellow writer Jacqueline Susann saying of the young author: “I’d like to meet him, but I wouldn’t want to shake his hand.”
Shockingly, Roth, then 36, made no secret of the fact that he had dragged his feet writing the book because he hated the idea of his ex-wife getting half the royalties.
Even more shockingly, he happily admitted that when ex Margaret was killed in a car crash aged 39 in 1968, the words suddenly flowed.
Their marriage, which had ended six years earlier, had been a disaster from the start, with angry Roth claiming she had tricked him into believing she was pregnant by using another woman’s urine sample.
Kobal Collection – Shutterstock Claire Bloom starring in The King's Speech in 2010
But still, the problems of his first marriage paled in comparison to his second, to Claire Bloom.
Their 17-year train-wreck relationship ended with both of them spending time in psychiatric wards — and that demand for $62billion.
Londoner Claire, now 87, has had a career spanning six decades with roles including Queen Mary in 2010 film The King’s Speech.
She enjoyed liaisons with actors Richard Burton and Laurence Olivier, and was married twice before meeting Roth in 1976 in New York.
Kobal Collection – Shutterstock Londoner Claire has had a career spanning six decades
Roth was on his way to an appointment with his psychoanalyst when their paths first crossed — a sign of things to come. Claire, meanwhile, was heading to a yoga class.
Their relationship was rocky from the start, especially because of Roth’s dislike of Claire’s daughter Anna, from her marriage to actor Rod Steiger.
When Anna was 18, Roth banished her from their home for being “boring” and informed her she could only visit them once a year.
The couple’s relationship spanned perhaps Claire’s most famous role, as Lady Marchmain in 1981 TV classic Brideshead Revisited.
Rex Features The couple's 17-year-long relationship ended with both being admitted to psychiatric hospital
It was Roth who suggested Claire should copy the smile of historian Lady Antonia Fraser to play the manipulative blue-blood.
By the late Eighties, their life together hit a new low when Roth became addicted to the sleeping pill Halcion after knee surgery.
The sedative was banned in the UK in 1992 after it was discovered its maker had failed to publish studies noting users had a high risk of problems such as depression, which Roth was hit hard by. In 1990, Claire was hurt by his novel Deception, based on their own lives and packed with graphic sex scenes, promiscuity and loathing of London.
Still, the same year she asked Roth to marry her — which he agreed to, by formal letter, a couple of weeks later.
AP2005 By the late 1980s, Roth became addicted to the sleeping pill Halcion
There was a catch. A pre-nuptial agreement drawn up by Roth, later described by Claire’s lawyer as “the most brutal document of its kind” he had ever encountered.
They went ahead and wed but by 1993 Roth had fallen into terrible depression and he checked himself into a psychiatric hospital.
When Claire went to visit him, he presented her with a list of her faults, including her “odd” behaviour in restaurants and her habit of humming.
On the night before he was due to leave the hospital, he spat out a string of insults so poisonous that it brought Claire to the point of suicide — and she was admitted to the same institution.
Alamy Roth with Nicole Kidman on the set of The Human Stain
They separated in 1994 and divorced in 1995 — when as well as faxing her his multi-billion “fine”, Roth also invoiced Claire for $150 an hour for each hour he had ever spent going over scripts with her.
Then things got even more bitter, with Claire revealing their secrets in scathing 1996 memoir, Leaving A Doll’s House, and Roth basing a nasty wife in 1998 novel I Married A Communist on Claire.
But as Roth — who never married again — admitted, “fear and loneliness and anxiety” fuelled his work, for which he won every major US literary prize including the Pulitzer for 1997 classic American Pastoral.
Reuters Roth claimed fear, loneliness and anxiety fuelled his writing
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