Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens — 1949-2011

So long, Hitch.

Christopher Hitchens, a slashing polemicist in the tradition of Thomas Paine and George Orwell who trained his sights on targets as various as Henry Kissinger, the British monarchy and Mother Teresa, wrote a best-seller attacking religious belief, and dismayed his former comrades on the left by enthusiastically supporting the American-led war in Iraq, died Thursday at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He was 62.

The cause was pneumonia, a complication of esophageal cancer, said the magazine Vanity Fair, which announced the death. In recent days Mr. Hitchens had stopped treatment and entered hospice care at the Houston hospital. He learned he had cancer while on a publicity tour in 2010 for his memoir, “Hitch-22,” and began writing and, on television, speaking about his illness frequently.

“In whatever kind of a ‘race’ life may be, I have very abruptly become a finalist,” Mr. Hitchens wrote in Vanity Fair, for which he was a contributing editor.

He took pains to emphasize that he had not revised his position on atheism, articulated in his best-selling 2007 book, “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” although he did express amused appreciation at the hope, among some concerned Christians, that he might undergo a late-life conversion.

He also professed to have no regrets for a lifetime of heavy smoking and drinking. “Writing is what’s important to me, and anything that helps me do that — or enhances and prolongs and deepens and sometimes intensifies argument and conversation — is worth it to me,” he told Charlie Rose in a television interview in 2010, adding that it was “impossible for me to imagine having my life without going to those parties, without having those late nights, without that second bottle.”

I don’t think there’s a writer — certainly a blogger — who didn’t read him and marvel at his amazing skill both with words and opinion. It had nothing to do with whether or not you agreed with him; it was his ability to find exactly the right thing to say and the way to say it. The only other writer who came close was Molly Ivins, and we lost her way too early as well.

Vanity Fair and Andrew Sullivan remember him fondly.