Born on November 11, 1922 in Indianapolis, Indiana, Vonnegut majored in biochemistry at Cornell University and served as an editor of the school newspaper before enlisting in the U.S. Army. He saw combat in the Battle of the Bulge and was held as a German prisoner of war for several months, during which time he witnessed the bombing of Dresden. That event and its aftermath inspired Slaughterhouse-Five and a number of his other works. Vonnegut was freed by Soviet troops in May 1945; upon his return to America, was awarded the Purple Heart.
After the war, he studied anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked as a police reporter at the City News Bureau of Chicago. He left Chicago to work in public relations in Schenectady, New York, and later got a teaching job at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. In the 1960s, Vonnegut became a counterculture hero for his books, most notably Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse Five.
Happy Birthday, Wanda June ran on Broadway from December 22, 1970 through March 14, 1971 for a total of 96 performances. The cast included Marsha Mason, Kevin McCarthy, and William Hickey. Vonnegut received that year's Drama Desk Award for Most Promising Playwright. A 1971 film based on the play, directed by Mark Robson, starred Rod Steiger, Susannah York, George Grizzard, and Hickey.
Among Vonnegut's other works for the stage are Between Time and Timbuktu, or Prometheus Five: A Space Fantasy, Make Up Your Mind, Miss Temptation, and L'Histoire du Soldat. A musical based on his novel God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, with book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken, ran Off-Broadway at the Entermedia Theatre for 49 performances in 1979.
Vonnegut is survived by his wife, the photographer Jill Krementz; three children from his first marriage to Jane Marie Cox; and four adopted children.