Adele Morales Mailer, an actress and artist who studied under Lee Strasberg and Hans Hoffman, but found unwanted fame as the stabbing victim of her then-husband, Norman Mailer, died Sunday at age 90 at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
The cause was pneumonia, daughter Danielle Mailer told the Associated Press on Monday.
“She wanted to be remembered as a gifted painter and actress and as a mother who was fiercely devoted to her (two) girls,” Danielle Mailer said, while acknowledging that she would be known to many for an act of violence her husband committed 55 years ago.
Adele Morales Mailer was the second of Norman Mailer’s six wives. They had been married six years when in November 1960 they got into a drunken argument after a party at their Manhattan apartment and the author stabbed her near the heart with a penknife.
The widely reported incident left her in critical condition, with wounds in her abdomen and back. Norman Mailer was indicted on a felonious assault charge, but Adele declined to press charges, saying she wanted to protect their daughters. He later received a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to third-degree assault.
“I came in contact for the first time in my life with the depths of my own rage,” Mailer later said of the stabbing, which helped define his belligerent image.
The Mailers were divorced in 1962, and Adele remained scarred and angry for decades after, her daughter said. Though Norman Mailer’s career continued with barely an interruption, Adele ended up in a Manhattan tenement.
“I can’t believe I’ve come to this, and a lot of that is due to him, because Mailer wouldn’t help me,” she told the New York Times in 2007, not long after the author’s death. “I’m living in poverty.”
Danielle Mailer said her mother remained dedicated to art after her marriage and turned her home into a “giant installation” of assemblages, her chosen medium.
“She lived and breathed her art and she passed it on to us,” Danielle said, noting that she was a painter and her sister, Elizabeth, a writer.
Born in New York City in 1925, Adele met Mailer in the early 1950s, when she was a painter and bohemian who had briefly dated Jack Kerouac and Mailer was the renowned author of “The Naked and the Dead.” They later had homes in Manhattan and Connecticut and socialized with William Styron, James Baldwin and others. But they argued often and she also had to intervene when he fought with others, once bailing him out after he had a drunken encounter with police.
Adele Mailer wrote of the stabbing in her 1997 memoir, “The Last Party,” and recalled it for the 2010 documentary “Norman Mailer: The American.”
“He was down in the street punching people,” she said of that night, when he had intended to launch a bid for New York City mayor. “He didn’t know who he was. He didn’t know what his name was, he was so out of it.
She would remember him bursting in on her in their apartment — “his body coming toward me in a rush. I didn’t see the knife in his hand” — and his indifference as she lay bleeding.
“That will be seared in my memory for ever and ever,” she said.