Author Christopher Hitchens dead

Last Updated: Dec 16, 2011, 14:46 PM IST

Washington: Author Christopher Hitchens dead Christopher Hitchens, the author, essayist and polemicist who waged verbal and occasional physical battle on behalf of causes left and right and wrote the provocative best-seller God is Not Great died Thursday night after a long battle with cancer. He was 62.

Hitchens death was announced in a statement from Vanity Fair magazine. The statement says he died Thursday night at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston of pneumonia, a complication of his esophageal cancer.

“There will never be another like Christopher. A man of ferocious intellect, who was as vibrant on the page as he was at the bar,” said Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. “Those who read him felt they knew him, and those who knew him were profoundly fortunate souls.”

A most engaged, prolific and public intellectual who enjoyed his drink (enough “to kill or stun the average mule”) and cigarettes, he announced in June 2010 that he was being treated for cancer of the esophagus and cancelled a tour for his memoir ‘Hitch-22.’

Hitchens, a frequent television commentator and a contributor to Vanity Fair, Slate and other publications, had become a popular author in 2007 thanks to ‘God is Not Great,’ a manifesto for athiests that defied a recent trend of religious works. Cancer humbled, but did not mellow him. Even after his diagnosis, his columns appeared weekly, savaging the royal family or revelling in the death of Osama bin Laden.

“I love the imagery of struggle,” he 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, he 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. But his passions remained constant and enemies of his youth, from Henry Kissinger to Mother Teresa, remained hated.

He 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.

Hitchens was an old-fashioned sensualist who abstained from clean living as if it were just another kind of church. In 2005, he would recall a trip to Aspen, Colorado., and a brief encounter after stepping off a ski lift.

“I was met by immaculate specimens of young American womanhood, holding silver trays and flashing perfect dentition,” he wrote. “What would I like? I thought a gin and tonic would meet the case. ‘Sir, that would be inappropriate.’ In what respect? ‘At this altitude gin would be very much more toxic than at ground level.’ In that case, I said, make it a double.”

An emphatic ally and inspired foe, he 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-Sept. 11). Among those on the Hitchens list of shame: Michael Moore, Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong il, Sarah Palin, Gore Vidal (post Sept. 11) and Prince Charles.

Bureau Report

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