Samuel Beckett, 83, the enigmatic and reclusive Irish playwright, poet and novelist who won a Nobel Prize for literature and who was best known for his 1952 drama, "Waiting for Godot," died of respiratory ailments Dec. 23 at a hospital in Paris, it was announced yesterday. Beckett was considered one of the primary exponents of a dramatic style that came to be known as theater of the absurd, an art form in which events and reality seem to have little relationship with one another, plots lack sense and logic, and time is out of order. His work was tragic and comical at the same time, despairing yet hopeful, and it profoundly affected the course and development of 20th century theater. In conferring the Nobel Prize on him in 1969, the Swedish Academy said his writing "acquires its elevation from the destitution of modern man." As the years advanced, Beckett's literary style became increasingly sparse and his works increasingly brief. A 1970 play, "Breath," lasted only 30 seconds. It consisted of light and amplified breathing, a baby's scream off stage and piles of miscellaneous rubbish for props. There were no actors and no dialogue. In another work, the script for the Buster Keaton movie "Film," the only sound was "ssh." Despite the demands he made on audiences, Beckett had an enthusiastic and determined literary following throughout the world. Known as Beckettologues, they gathered in 1986, the year of their idol's 80th birthday, to celebrate his work at university seminars and conferences, discussion groups and readings. Characteristically, Beckett attended none of these events. For decades he lived in virtual seclusion with his wife, Suzanne, in an apartment on the Left Bank in Paris, seeing only a few close friends and his editors. To safeguard his privacy, Beckett is said to have equipped his quarters with a specially designed telephone that permitted him to call out but did not receive calls. It was consistent with his lifestyle that no announcement of his death was made until after his burial yesterday. Beckett had lived in France since the 1930s and since 1945 had written in French. He did the English translations of most of his French writing himself. Although known and highly regarded within a small circle of enthusiasts for his writings of the 1930s and 1940s, Beckett did not become widely known to the public until 1953, when "Waiting for Godot" was first produced on French radio. The play was produced in London in 1955 and in New York in 1956. In all, it has been translated and produced in more than 20 languages. It is about two vagabonds and the dialogue between them as they wait over a period of two days for the appearance of a Mr. Godot, who never arrives. Godot has variously been identified as God, death, a savior, fate or the future. "This is a very deep tragedy; this is a very deep comedy," wrote Washington Post theater critic Richard L. Coe. "To be told that we are all waiting for something or someone who will never turn up is a slice of deep human wisdom." Beckett himself once said that Godot "is not despair, but life -- aimless, but always with an element of hope." It was also during the 1950s that Beckett wrote what is generally considered to have been his novelistic masterpiece, a funny, terrifying trilogy consisting of "Molloy," "Malone Dies" and "The Unnameable." Molloy, the subject of the first novel, is an old Irishman in declining health who at the beginning of the novel can only ride a bicycle as dilapidated as himself and at the end of it can only roll. He tells the story of his persecution by a man named Moran with a bitterly sardonic wit. Malone, in the next novel, writes about his own decline with a quarter-inch pencil, and the novel ends in mid-sentence when the pencil is used up. The subject of "The Unnameable" has forgotten who he is, leaving the reader a selection of guesses, the most plausible of which may be that he is a legless, armless man kept in a milk jug outside an Irish restaurant. These novels were followed in 1957 by "Endgame," another of Beckett's better-known plays. In it a blind paralytic laments his fate while his senile and crippled parents converse while sitting in trash cans. Three years later the author produced "Krapp's Last Tape," a one-act, one-actor play about a man growling and snarling at the tape-recorded ideals of his youth. These and other works produced considerable disagreement in the literary community over what Beckett was about. Actress Billie Whitelaw, who had appeared in many of Beckett's plays, once turned down an invitation to lecture on his work, saying she did not understand it. When she told this to Beckett, he is said to have laughed and answered, "You can tell them the author doesn't know what the hell it's about either." Born in Dublin on Good Friday, April 13, 1906, Beckett attended Dublin's Trinity College, where he was a standout scholar and cricket player. As a young man he was secretary to the Irish writer James Joyce, who influenced his literary thinking. Later he returned to Trinity, where he received a master's degree and taught French. He resigned in 1932, complaining that he disliked teaching and living in Ireland. For the next five years until settling in permanently in Paris, he lived in France, England and Germany. In this period he also began his literary career, publishing a collection of short stories, "More Pricks than Kicks," a book of poetry, "Echo's Bones," and in 1938 his first novel, "Murphy." It was the story of a destitute Irishman living in London seeking peace through a dreamlike meditation while rocking in a rocking chair. In the end a nearby gas house explodes and blows him to pieces. At his request the victim's ashes are flushed down the toilet at Dublin's Abbey Theatre. After the German occupation of Paris in June 1940, Beckett fled south to unoccupied Vichy France. In 1942 he worked as a laborer in Avignon while working at night on the novel "Watt," his last work to be written in English. It was about a man doomed to live in a nightmarish household who dies after suffering an avalanche of hallucinations. Later in the war, Beckett and his wife became active in the French Resistance. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre for this activity. Although the 1950s witnessed the tour de force of Beckett's literary career, he continued writing until shortly before his death. His 1961 novel, "How It Is," was written without conventional punctuation or paragraph spacing. His last work was a 1,801-word novella, "Stirrings Still," published in March. It was a meditation on old age. Only 200 copies were published, and they sold for $1,720 each. Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesnil, whom Beckett met in 1937 and lived with before their marriage in 1961, died in July. There are no immediate survivors.