Roth’s literary agent, Andrew Wylie, said the writer died in a New York City hospital of congestive heart failure.
Author of more than 25 books, including Portnoy’s Complaint, The Human Stain and The Ghost Writer, Roth was a fierce satirist and uncompromising realist, confronting readers in a bold, direct style that scorned false sentiment.
He won the highest US literary honours, including two National Book Awards, two National Book Critics Circle prizes and, in 1998, the Pulitzer for American Pastoral.
He also won the Man Booker International Prize – which is awarded for a body of work rather than a single novel – in 2011.
His former wife, British actress Claire Bloom, wrote in her best-selling memoir, Leaving a Doll’s House, of reading the manuscript of his novel Deception. With horror, she discovered his characters included a boring middle-aged wife named Claire, married to an adulterous writer named Philip.
Roth’s wars also originated from within. He survived a burst appendix in the late 1960s and near-suicidal depression in 1987. After a disappointing reaction to his 1993 novel, Operation Shylock, he fell again into severe depression and for years rarely communicated with the media.
Until his abrupt retirement, Roth was a dedicated, prolific author who often published a book a year and was generous to writers from other countries. For years, he edited the Writers from the Other Europe series, in which authors from Eastern Europe received exposure to American readers; Milan Kundera was among the beneficiaries.
Yesterday, The Wire writer David Simon and Guardians Of The Galaxy director James Gunn joined in paying tribute to Roth. Simon wrote on Twitter: “Kaddish for Philip Roth, the great American novelist of our postwar world.”
He added: “I had the honor of meeting Philip Roth just a few months ago. At 85, he was more precise and insightful, more intellectually adept and downright witty than most any person of any age. What a marvelous, rigorous mind.”
Gunn shared a photo of the cover of Roth’s book The Counterlife on Twitter, writing: “RIP Philip Roth. This one hurts, both me and all of literature.”
Roth’s biographer, Blake Bailey, said he died surrounded by “lifelong friends who loved him dearly”.