Henry Miller, an American novelist whose books widely censored, widely read despite the censorship, and, eventually, widely praised as an iconoclastic celebration of life, died Saturday at his home in Pacific Palisades, Calif. He was 88.
The cause of death was not reported but Mr. Miller had suffered in recent years from circulatory disorders.
For years Mr. Miller knew as much notoriety as fame. His most famous books were two autobiographical novels "Tropic of Cancer" and "Tropic of Capricorn." They are garrulous, sometimes surrealistic and often funny. But they are most often remembered for sex -- sex in real life, sex in fantasies, sex at all times and in all kinds of places. Sex in abrupt, shocking four-letter words.
"Cancer" was published by the Obelisk Press in Paris in 1934. "Capricorn" was published by the same house in 1939. Neither appeared in the United States until 1961 when the Grove Press brought them out in paperback editions. It was not until 1963 that the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a ruling by the Supreme Court of California that they were not obscene. From the 1930s until their publication in this country, the two books were among the items most frequently smuggled into the United States by persons returning from France.
In fact, M. Miller wrote more than 50 books. Besides "Cancer" and "Capricorn," several are autobiographical, and these include "The Rosy Crucifixion," a triology made up of three works that originally were published separately: "Sexus," "Plexus" and "Nexus." Mr Miller also wrote about travel, painting -- he himself painted, and his watercolors appeared in many shows -- his friends, and other topics.
He became one of the most widely read American authors of this century. But he sometimes feared that he was read primarily because of his earlier notoriety.
"I'm being accepted for the wrong reasons," he once said in an interview with "The Paris Review." "It's a sensational affair; it doesn't mean that I am appreciated for my true worth."
Critics and friends did not share these doubts. The writer Anais Nin characterized his work as "a wild extravagance, a mad gaiety, a verve, a gusto, at times almost a delirium." Norman Mailer once said Mr. Miller's books had "all the palpability of a huge elm uprooted in your back yard." The English writer Lawrence Durrell described Mr. Miller's novels as having an "Elizabethan quality, a rare tonic vitality which comes from the savage health of its creator." Durrell added that the autobiographical novels were "one of the great liberating confessions of our age."
Robert Shattuck, a critic for The New York Times, wrote that the best way to read "Cancer" and "Capricorn" was to treat them "as a lark whose meandering, implausible story challenges all sham, seriousness, 'earning a living,' automatism, and unawareness of self . . . The pace and jagged action offer a superb entertainment that brings in as it goes jeremiads, casual lyrics, and sudden reaches toward the spiritual core of life."
Mr. Miller often was compared to Walt Whitman, and he himself acknowledged his debt to the American poet.
"My loyalty and adoration have been constant -- for the same men, all throughout my life" he said. "Whitman, Emerson, Thoreau, Rabelais above all. I still think that no one has ever had a larger, freer, healthier view of man and his universe than Walt Whitman."
On the question of sex in his own books Mr. Miller said: "I wrote about sex because it was such a big part of my life. Sex was always the dominant thing. People have said that I threw in juicy passages just to keep the reader awake. That is not true. My everyday life was full of this objectionable or questionable material."
He drew a distinction between his own work and what he regarded as the prurience of many more recent writers. Recent books, he said are merely "titillating to teen-agers . . . I was accused more of obscenity than pornography: I could be bruising, damaging, healing, but not titillating. Today, writers are just flirting with sex."
Henry Valentine Miller was born in New York City on Dec. 26, 1891. His parents were second-generation German-Americans, and the family spoke German at home as much as English. When Henry was a small child, the family moved to the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, and Mr. Miller retained a Brooklyn accent for the rest of his life.
By his own account, his childhood was not happy. He once described his mother as a "rigid, puritanical woman" who wanted him to follow in his father's footsteps and be a tailor. She disapproved of his ambition of being a writer.
The young Miller held a series of odd jobs in New York and for awhile he even tried to work with his father. During World War I, he was a clerk in the old War Department. In quest of excitement, he took a job as a reporter on The Washington Post, but quit after three days because he did not like his assignments. (A search of The Post's files discloses no Henry Miller bylines).
Back in New York, he went to work for the Western Union Telegraph Co. His job was to hire messengers, and he described his years there in "Capricorn."
In 1917, he married the first of his five wives, Beatrice Sylvas Wickens.
In 1923, he met his second wife, June Edith Smith, a Broadway taxi dancer. iHe divorced his first wife, married Miss Smith, and tried writing fulltime, living on his wife's earnings. The couple spent several months in Paris in 1928 and 1929.
A year later Mr. Miller returned to Paris alone. He lived there for the next nine years. His existence, he has written was largely hand-to-mouth, jobs being few and far between.He completed "Cancer" in 1932 but it was not until two years later that it was published.
In 1939, he visited Greece and this trip provided him with the material for his own favorite book, "The Colossus of Maroussi."
"That voyage to Greece was the apex of my happiness, my joy, a very great eye-opener," he said in an interview with The Post in 1977. "What one admires there is a poor people who are happy, compared to us who are miserable with our riches."
Mr. Miller returned to the United States after the outbreak of World War II. For several years he lived in a modest home in the Big Sur section of California. He moved to Pacific Palisades in the mid-1960s because, he said, his presence in th growing art colony around Big Sur had become too well known and brought too many visitors.
In 1944, at the beginning of his Big Sur years, Mr. Miller married Janina Lepska. They were divorced in 1952 and the following year he married Eve McClure. That marriage ended in divorce in 1962. Shortly thereafter, he married Hoki Tokuda, a Japanese entertainer who played the piano in nightclubs. He and Miss Tokuda had been separated for several years at the time of Mr. Miller's death.
Mr. Miller's honors included membership in the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the Legion of Honor of France.
His survivors include a daughter, Barbara, by his first marriage, and two children by his third marriage, Anthony and Valentin.
In what could serve as a summing up of his life and work, he once said, "I found it easier to give the truth about the ugly side of my nature than the good. I wrote all these autographical books not because I think myself as such an important person but -- this will make you laugh -- because I thought when I began what I was telling the story of the most tragic suffering any man had endured. As I got on with it I realized that I was only an amateur at suffering."