Author, essayist and polemicist Christopher Hitchens, who waged verbal and occasional physical battle on behalf of causes left and right, died last night, after a long battle with cancer, at 62.
Christopher Hitchens‘ death was announced in a statement from Conde Nast, publisher of Vanity Fair magazine.
The statement says Christopher Hitchens died last night at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston of pneumonia, a complication of his oesophageal cancer.
A most engaged, prolific and public intellectual who enjoyed his drink (enough “to kill or stun the average mule”) and cigarettes, Christopher Hitchens announced in June 2010 that he was being treated for cancer of the oesophagus and cancelled a tour for his memoir Hitch-22.
Christopher Hitchens, a frequent television commentator and a contributor to Vanity Fair, Slate and other publications, had become a popular author in 2007 thanks to his provocative best-seller, “God Is Not Great”, a manifesto for atheists that defied a recent trend of religious works.
His cancer humbled, but did not mellow him. Even after his diagnosis, his columns appeared weekly, savaging the royal family or reveling in the death of Osama Bin Laden.
“I love the imagery of struggle,” Christopher Hitchens wrote about his illness in an August 2010 essay in Vanity Fair.
“I sometimes wish I were suffering in a good cause, or risking my life for the good of others, instead of just being a gravely endangered patient.”
Eloquent and intemperate, bawdy and urbane, Christopher Hitchens was an acknowledged contrarian and contradiction – half-Christian, half-Jewish and fully non-believing; a native of England who settled in America; a former Trotskyite who backed the Iraq war and supported George W. Bush.
However, his passions remained constant and enemies of his youth, from Henry Kissinger to Mother Teresa, remained hated.
Christopher Hitchens was a militant humanist who believed in pluralism and racial justice and freedom of speech, big cities and fine art and the willingness to stand the consequences.
He was smacked in the rear by then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and beaten up in Beirut. He once submitted to waterboarding to prove that it was indeed torture.
Christopher Hitchens was an old-fashioned sensualist who abstained from clean living as if it were just another kind of church.
An emphatic ally and inspired foe, Christopher Hitchens stood by friends in trouble (Satanic Verses novelist Salman Rushdie) and against enemies in power (Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini).
His heroes included George Orwell, Thomas Paine and Gore Vidal (pre-September 11).
Among those on the Christopher Hitchens list of shame: Michael Moore, Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong il, Sarah Palin, Gore Vidal (post September 11) and Prince Charles.
Christopher Hitchens was born in Portsmouth, England, in 1949. His father, Eric, was a “purse-lipped” Navy veteran known as The Commander; his mother, Yvonne, a romantic who later killed herself during an extra-marital rendezvous in Greece.
Young Christopher would have rather read a book. He was “a mere weed and weakling and kick-bag” who discovered that “words could function as weapons” and so stockpiled them.
In college, Oxford, Christopher Hitchens met such longtime friends as authors Martin Amis and Ian McEwan and claimed to be nearby when visiting Rhodes scholar Bill Clinton did or did not inhale marijuana.
Radicalized by the 1960s, Christopher Hitchens was often arrested at political rallies, was kicked out of Britain’s Labour Party over his opposition to the Vietnam War and became a correspondent for the radical magazine International Socialism. His reputation broadened in the 1970s through his writings for the New Statesman.
Christopher Hitchens advocated intervention in Bosnia and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
No Democrat angered him more than Bill Clinton, whose presidency led to the bitter end of Christopher Hitchens’ friendship with White House aide Sidney Blumenthal and other Clinton backers.
As Christopher Hitchens wrote in his memoir, he found Bill Clinton “hateful in his behavior to women, pathological as a liar, and deeply suspect when it came to money in politics”.
Christopher Hitchens wrote the anti-Clinton book, “No One Left To Lie To”, at a time when most liberals were supporting the president as he faced impeachment over his affair with Monica Lewinsky.
He also loathed Hillary Rodham Clinton and switched his affiliation from independent to Democrat in 2008 just so he could vote against her in the presidential primary.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, completed his exit. He fought with Vidal, Noam Chomsky and others who either suggested that U.S. foreign policy had helped caused the tragedy or that the Bush administration had advanced knowledge.
Christopher Hitchens supported the Iraq war, quit The Nation, backed Bush for re-election in 2004 and repeatedly chastised those whom he believed worried unduly about the feelings of Muslims.
He also wrote short biographies/appreciations of Paine and Thomas Jefferson, a tribute to Orwell and Letters to a Young Contrarian (Art of Mentoring), in which he advised that “Only an open conflict of ideas and principles can produce any clarity”.
A collection of essays, “Arguably”, came out in September 2011 and he was planning a “book-length meditation on malady and mortality”. He appeared in a 2010 documentary about the topical singer Phil Ochs.
Survived by his second wife, author Carol Blue, and by his three children (Alexander, Sophia and Antonia), Christopher Hitchens had well-crafted ideas about posterity, clarified years ago when he saw himself referred to as “the late” Christopher Hitchens in print.
For the May 2010 issue of Vanity Fair, before his illness, Christopher Hitchens submitted answers for the Proust Questionnaire, a probing and personal survey for which the famous have revealed everything from their favorite color to their greatest fear.