A meat locker labeled slaughterhouse-five
Despite his commercial success, Vonnegut battled depression throughout his life, and in 1984, he attempted suicide with pills and alcohol, joking later about how he botched the job.
His mother had succeeded in killing herself just before he left for Germany during World War II, where he was quickly taken prisoner during the Battle of the Bulge. He was being held in Dresden when Allied bombs created a firestorm that killed an estimated 135,000 people in the city.
"The firebombing of Dresden explains absolutely nothing about why I write what I write and am what I am," Vonnegut wrote in "Fates Worse Than Death," his 1991 autobiography of sorts.
But he spent 23 years struggling to write about the ordeal, which he survived by huddling with other POWs inside an underground meat locker labeled slaughterhouse-five.
The novel, in which Pvt. Pilgrim is transported from Dresden by time-traveling aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, was published at the height of the Vietnam War, and solidified his reputation as an iconoclast.
"He was sort of like nobody else," said Gore Vidal, who noted that he, Vonnegut and Norman Mailer were among the last writers around who served in World War II.
"He was imaginative; our generation of writers didn't go in for imagination very much. Literary realism was the general style. Those of us who came out of the war in the 1940s made sort of the official American prose, and it was often a bit on the dull side. Kurt was never dull."