Christopher Hitchens

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Christopher Hitchens
Hitchens photographed from profile
Born Christopher Eric Hitchens
(1949-04-13)13 April 1949
Portsmouth, Hampshire, UK
Died 15 December 2011(2011-12-15) (aged 62)
Houston, Texas, US
Cause of death Pneumonia (brought on by oesophageal cancer)
Nationality British (1949–2011)
American (2007–2011)
Alma mater The Leys School
Balliol College, Oxford
Spouse(s)
  • Eleni Meleagrou
    (m. 1981–89; divorced)
  • Carol Blue
    (m. 1991–2011; his death)[1]
Awards
Signature
Christopher Hitchens signature.svg

Christopher Eric Hitchens (13 April 1949 – 15 December 2011) was an author, columnist, essayist, writer, orator, religious and literary critic, social critic and journalist. He contributed to New Statesman, The Nation, The Atlantic, London Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, Slate, and Vanity Fair. Hitchens was the author, co-author, editor or co-editor of over 30 books, including five collections of essays, on a range of subjects, including politics, literature, and religion. A staple of talk shows and lecture circuits, his confrontational style of debate made him both a lauded and controversial figure and public intellectual. Known for his contrarian stance on a number of issues, Hitchens criticised such public and generally popular figures as Mother Teresa; Bill Clinton; Henry Kissinger; and Princess Diana. He was the elder brother of the conservative journalist and author Peter Hitchens.

Having long described himself as a socialist, a Marxist and an anti-totalitarian, Hitchens began his break from the established political left after what he called the "tepid reaction" of the Western left to the controversy over The Satanic Verses, followed by the left's embrace of Bill Clinton, and the antiwar movement's opposition to NATO intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s. He later became a liberal hawk and supported the War on Terror.

A noted critic of religion and an antitheist, Hitchens viewed the concept of a god or a supreme being as a totalitarian belief that destroys individual freedom, and argued free expression and scientific discovery should replace religion as a means of teaching ethics and defining human civilisation. Hitchens authored God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, which was a New York Times bestseller.

Life and career[edit]

Early life and education[edit]

Hitchens was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire, the elder of two boys.[7][8] His parents, Eric Ernest Hitchens (1909–87) and Yvonne Jean Hitchens (née Hickman; 1921–73), met in Scotland when both were serving in the Royal Navy during World War II.[9] His mother was born Jewish, and kept that fact a secret.[10] It was not until late 1987 that Hitchens learned of his Jewish ancestry.[10][11][12] His mother was a "Wren" (a member of the Women's Royal Naval Service),[13] and his father an officer aboard the cruiser HMS Jamaica, which helped sink Nazi Germany's battleship Scharnhorst in the Battle of the North Cape.[4] His father's naval career required the family to move a number of times from base to base throughout Britain and its dependencies, including in Malta, where Christopher's brother Peter was born in Sliema in 1951.

Hitchens's mother sent him to Mount House School in Tavistock in Devon at the age of eight, followed by the independent Leys School in Cambridge.[14] Hitchens then went up to Balliol College, Oxford, where he was tutored by Steven Lukes and Anthony Kenny and read Philosophy, Politics and Economics. Hitchens was "bowled over" in his adolescence by Richard Llewellyn's How Green Was My Valley, Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon, Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, R. H. Tawney's critique on Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, and the works of George Orwell.[13] In 1968, he took part in the TV quiz show University Challenge.[15]

In the 1960s, Hitchens joined the political left, drawn by his anger over the Vietnam War, nuclear weapons, racism, and oligarchy, including that of "the unaccountable corporation". He expressed affinity with the politically charged countercultural and protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s. He deplored the recreational drug use of the time, which he described as hedonistic.[16] Hitchens was first inspired to become a journalist after reading a piece by James Cameron.[17]

Hitchens was bisexual during his younger days.[18] He claimed to have had sexual relations with two male students at Oxford who would later become Tory ministers during the premiership of Margaret Thatcher, although he would not reveal their names publicly.[19]

Hitchens joined the Labour Party in 1965, but along with the majority of the Labour students' organisation was expelled in 1967, because of what Hitchens called "Prime Minister Harold Wilson's contemptible support for the war in Vietnam".[20] Under the influence of Peter Sedgwick, who translated the writings of Russian revolutionary and Soviet dissident Victor Serge, Hitchens forged an ideological interest in Trotskyist and anti-Stalinist socialism.[13] Shortly after he joined "a small but growing post-Trotskyist Luxemburgist sect".[21]

Journalistic career in the UK (1970–81)[edit]

Hitchens began working as a correspondent for the magazine International Socialism,[22] published by the International Socialists, the forerunners of today's British Socialist Workers Party. This group was broadly Trotskyist, but differed from more orthodox Trotskyist groups in its refusal to defend communist states as "workers' states". Their slogan was "Neither Washington nor Moscow but International Socialism".

Hitchens left Oxford with a third class degree.[23] In 1971 he went to work at the Times Higher Education Supplement where he served as a social science correspondent. Hitchens admitted that he hated the position, and was fired after six months in the job. Next he was a researcher for ITV's Weekend World.[24] In 1973 he went to work for the New Statesman, where his colleagues included the authors Martin Amis, whom he had briefly met at Oxford, Julian Barnes and James Fenton, with whom he had shared a house in Oxford.[24]

It was at this time that the Friday lunches began, which were attended by writers including Clive James, Ian McEwan, Kingsley Amis, Terence Kilmartin, Robert Conquest, Al Alvarez, Peter Porter, Russell Davies and Mark Boxer. At the New Statesman Hitchens acquired a reputation as a left-winger, reporting internationally from areas of conflict such as Belfast, Libya and Iraq.[24]

In November 1973, Hitchens's mother committed suicide in Athens in a suicide pact with her lover, a defrocked clergyman named Timothy Bryan.[13] The pair overdosed on sleeping pills in adjoining hotel rooms, and Bryan slashed his wrists in the bathtub. Hitchens flew alone to Athens to recover his mother's body, initially under the impression that his mother had been murdered. Both her children were then independent adults. While in Greece, Hitchens reported on the constitutional crisis of the military junta. It became his first leading article for the New Statesman.[25]

In December 1977, Hitchens interviewed Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla, a conversation he later described as "horrifying".[26]

In 1977, unhappy at the New Statesman, Hitchens defected to the Daily Express where he became a foreign correspondent. He returned to the New Statesman in 1979 where he became foreign editor.[24]

American career (1981–2011)[edit]

Hitchens went to the United States in 1981, as part of an editor exchange programme between The New Statesman and The Nation.[27] After joining The Nation, he penned vociferous critiques of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and American foreign policy in South and Central America.[10][28][29][30][31][32] He became a contributing editor of Vanity Fair in 1992,[33] writing ten columns a year. He left The Nation in 2002 after profoundly disagreeing with other contributors over the Iraq War. There is speculation that Hitchens was the inspiration for Tom Wolfe's character Peter Fallow in the 1987 novel The Bonfire of the Vanities,[29] but others—including Hitchens (or he indicated as such while alive)—believe it to be Spy Magazine's "Ironman Nightlife Decathlete" Anthony Haden-Guest.[34] In 1987, his father died from cancer of the oesophagus; the same disease that would later claim his own life.[35] In April 2007, Hitchens became a U.S. citizen. He became a media fellow at the Hoover Institution in September 2008.[36] At Slate, he usually wrote under the news-and-politics column named Fighting Words.[37]

Hitchens spent part of his early career in journalism as a foreign correspondent in Cyprus.[38] Through his work there he met his first wife Eleni Meleagrou, a Greek Cypriot, with whom he had two children, Alexander and Sophia. His son, Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, born in 1984, has worked as a policy researcher in London. Hitchens continued writing essay-style correspondence pieces from a variety of locales, including Chad, Uganda[39] and the Darfur region of Sudan.[40] His work took him to over 60 countries. In 1991 he received a Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction.[41]

Hitchens met Carol Blue for the first time at Los Angeles airport in 1989 and married her in 1991. Hitchens called it love at first sight.[42] In 1999, as harsh critics of Clinton, Hitchens and Carol Blue submitted an affidavit to the trial managers of the Republican Party in the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Therein they swore that their then-friend, Sidney Blumenthal, had described Monica Lewinsky as a stalker. This allegation contradicted Blumenthal's own sworn deposition in the trial,[43] and it resulted in a hostile exchange of opinion in the public sphere between Hitchens and Blumenthal. Following the publication of Blumenthal's The Clinton Wars, Hitchens wrote several pieces in which he accused Blumenthal of manipulating the facts.[43][44] The incident ended their friendship and sparked a personal crisis for Hitchens who was stridently criticised by friends for what they saw as a cynical and ultimately politically futile act.[10]

Before Hitchens's political shift, the American author and polemicist Gore Vidal was apt to speak of Hitchens as his "dauphin" or "heir".[45][46] In 2010, Hitchens attacked Vidal in a Vanity Fair piece headlined "Vidal Loco", calling him a "crackpot" for his adoption of 9/11 conspiracy theories.[47][48] On the back of Hitchens's memoir Hitch-22, among the praise from notable figures, Vidal's endorsement of Hitchens as his successor is crossed out in red and annotated "NO, C.H." His strong advocacy of the war in Iraq had gained Hitchens a wider readership, and in September 2005 he was named as fifth on the list of the "Top 100 Public Intellectuals" by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines.[49] An online poll ranked the 100 intellectuals, but the magazines noted that the rankings of Hitchens (5), Noam Chomsky (1), and Abdolkarim Soroush (15) were partly due to supporters publicising the vote. Hitchens became a US citizen in 2007.

In 2007 Hitchens's work for Vanity Fair won him the National Magazine Award in the category "Columns and Commentary".[50] He was a finalist once more in the same category in 2008 for some of his columns in Slate but lost out to Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone.[51] He won the National Magazine Award for Columns about Cancer in 2011.[52][53] Hitchens also served on the Advisory Board of Secular Coalition for America and offered advice to Coalition on the acceptance and inclusion of nontheism in American life.[54] In December 2011, prior to his death, Asteroid 57901 Hitchens was named after him.[55]

Hitchens did not leave his position writing for The Nation until after the September 11 attacks, stating that he felt the magazine had arrived at a position "that John Ashcroft is a greater menace than Osama bin Laden."[56] The September 11 attacks "exhilarated" him, bringing into focus "a battle between everything I love and everything I hate" and strengthening his embrace of an interventionist foreign policy that challenged "fascism with an Islamic face."[32] His numerous editorials in support of the Iraq War caused some to label him a neoconservative, although Hitchens insisted he was not "a conservative of any kind," and his friend Ian McEwan described him as representing the anti-totalitarian left.[57] Hitchens recalls in his memoir having been "invited by Bernard-Henri Levy to write an essay on political reconsiderations for his magazine La Regle du Jeu. I gave it the partly ironic title: 'Can One Be a Neoconservative?' Impatient with this, some copy editor put it on the cover as 'How I Became a Neoconservative.' Perhaps this was an instance of the Cartesian principle as opposed to the English empiricist one: It was decided that I evidently was what I apparently only thought." Indeed, in a 2010 BBC interview, he stated that he "still [thought] like a Marxist" and considered himself "a leftist."[58]

Literature reviews[edit]

Hitchens wrote a monthly essay in The Atlantic[59] about books and contributed occasionally to other literary journals. One of his own books, Unacknowledged Legislation: Writers in the Public Sphere, is a collection of such works, and Love, Poverty and War contains a section devoted to literary essays. In Why Orwell Matters, he defends Orwell's writings against modern critics as relevant today and progressive for his time. In the 2008 book Christopher Hitchens and His Critics: Terror, Iraq, and the Left, many literary critiques are included of essays and other books of writers, such as David Horowitz and Edward Said.

During a three-hour In Depth interview on Book TV, he named authors who have had influence on his views, including Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Evelyn Waugh, P. G. Wodehouse and Conor Cruise O'Brien.[4]

Political views[edit]

My own opinion is enough for me, and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, anyplace, anytime. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line and kiss my arse.
– Christopher Hitchens[60]

The San Francisco Chronicle referred to Hitchens as a "gadfly with gusto".[61] In 2009, Hitchens was listed by Forbes magazine as one of the "25 most influential liberals in the U.S. media".[62] The same article noted, however, that he would "likely be aghast to find himself on this list", as it reduces his self-styled radicalism to mere liberalism. Hitchens's political perspectives appear more notably in his wide-ranging writings, which include many dialogues.

In 2010, Theodore Dalrymple wrote, "Christopher made an early commitment to Trotskyism but it is difficult to take him very seriously as a revolutionary because he always has been too much of a hedonist. Indeed, he appears to me to have had roughly the same relationship to proletarians as Marie Antoinette had to sheep: They have walk-on parts in his personal drama. There is not much evidence of his having thought deeply, or even at all, about the fate, under a social system he vociferously advocated, of the pleasures he so clearly values, the liking for which I don't in the least blame him; nor is there evidence of any real reflection on what the world would have been like had his demands been met. Not permanent revolution but permanent adolescence has been his goal, and I think he has achieved it."[63]

While Hitchens supported Israel's right to exist, he was often critical of the Israeli government's handling of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Having long described himself as a socialist and a Marxist, Hitchens began his break from the established political left after what he called the "tepid reaction" of the Western left to the controversy over The Satanic Verses, followed by the left's embrace of Bill Clinton, and the antiwar movement's opposition to NATO intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s. He later became a liberal hawk and supported the War on Terror, but he had some reservation, such as his characterization of waterboarding as "torture". In January 2006, Hitchens joined with four other individuals and four organizations, including the ACLU and Greenpeace, as plaintiffs in a lawsuit, ACLU v. NSA, challenging Bush's NSA warrantless surveillance; the lawsuit was filed by the ACLU.[64][65]

Critiques of specific individuals[edit]

Hitchens was known for his scathing critiques of public figures. Three figures—Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger, and Mother Teresa—were the targets of three separate full length texts, No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, and The Missionary Position : Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice. Hitchens also wrote book-length biographical essays about Thomas Jefferson (Thomas Jefferson: Author of America), George Orwell (Why Orwell Matters), and Thomas Paine (Thomas Paine's "Rights of Man": A Biography).

The majority of Hitchens's critiques took the form of short opinion pieces, including critiques of: Jerry Falwell,[66][67] George Galloway,[68] Mel Gibson,[69] the 14th Dalai Lama,[70] Michael Moore,[71] Daniel Pipes,[72] Ronald Reagan,[73] Jesse Helms,[74] and Cindy Sheehan.[21][75] When comedian Bob Hope died in 2003, Hitchens wrote an attack piece on him, calling Hope "a fool and nearly a clown, but he was never even remotely a comedian" and "Quick, then—what is your favorite Bob Hope gag? It wouldn't take you long if I challenged you on Milton Berle, or Woody Allen, or John Cleese, or even Lenny Bruce or Mort Sahl. By this time tomorrow, I bet you haven't come up with a real joke for which Hope could take credit." Critics argued that Hitchens focused solely on Hope's declining years and ignored his heyday in the 1940s.[76] Hitchens was critical of Pope Benedict XVI's career.[77]

Criticism of religion[edit]

Hitchens is an antitheist and he once said that a person "could be an atheist and wish that belief in God were correct," but that "an antitheist, a term I'm trying to get into circulation, is someone who is relieved that there's no evidence for such an assertion."[78] He often spoke against the Abrahamic religions. When asked by readers of The Independent (London) what he considered to be the "axis of evil", Hitchens replied "Christianity, Judaism, Islam – the three leading monotheisms."[79] Hitchens was raised nominally Christian, and went to Christian boarding schools, but from an early age declined to participate in communal prayers. Later in life, Hitchens discovered that he was of Jewish descent on his mother's side. Hitchens's Jewish-born ancestors were immigrants from Eastern Europe (including Poland).[12][12][80][81] In a 2010 interview at New York Public Library, Hitchens stated that he was against infant circumcision.

In 2005, Hitchens was accused by Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Liberties of being particularly anti-Catholic. Hitchens responded "when religion is attacked in this country ... the Catholic Church comes in for a little more than its fair share". Hitchens had also been accused of anti-Catholic bigotry by others, including Brent Bozell, Tom Piatak in The American Conservative, and UCLA Law Professor Stephen Bainbridge.[82][83] In an interview with Radar in 2007, Hitchens said that if the Christian right's agenda were implemented in the United States "It wouldn't last very long and would, I hope, lead to civil war, which they will lose, but for which it would be a great pleasure to take part."[84] When Joe Scarborough on 12 March 2004 asked Hitchens whether he was "consumed with hatred for conservative Catholics", Hitchens responded that he was not and that he just thinks that "all religious belief is sinister and infantile".[85] Piatak claimed that "A straightforward description of all Hitchens's anti-Catholic outbursts would fill every page in this magazine", noting particularly Hitchens's assertion that US Supreme Court Justice John Roberts should not be confirmed because of his faith.[83]

In February 2006, Hitchens helped organise a pro-Denmark rally outside the Danish Embassy in Washington, DC in response to the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy.[86]

Hitchens and John Lennox at an "Is God Great?" debate (Alabama, 2009)

God Is Not Great demonstrated Hitchens' role in the "New Atheism" movement, and he also was made an Honorary Associates of the Rationalist International and the National Secular Society[87] Hitchens said he would accept an invitation from any religious leader who wished to debate with him. He also served on the advisory board of the Secular Coalition for America,[54] a lobbying group for atheists and humanists in Washington, DC. On September 30, 2007, Richard Dawkins, Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett met at Hitchens' residence for a private, unmoderated discussion that lasted two hours. The event was videotaped and titled "The Four Horsemen".[88] In 2007, Hitchens began a series of written debates on the question "Is Christianity Good for the World?" with Christian theologian and pastor, Douglas Wilson, published in Christianity Today magazine.[89] This exchange eventually became a book by the same title in 2008. During their book tour to promote the book, film producer Darren Doane sent a film crew to accompany them. Doane produced the film Collision: Is Christianity GOOD for the World?, which was released on 27 October 2009. On 4 April 2009 Hitchens debated William Lane Craig on the existence of God at Biola University.[90] In God Is Not Great, he expanded his criticism to include all religions, including those rarely criticised by Western secularists, such as Buddhism and neo-paganism. The book received mixed responses, from praise in The New York Times for his "logical flourishes and conundrums"[91] to accusations of "intellectual and moral shabbiness" in the Financial Times.[92] God Is Not Great was nominated for a National Book Award on 10 October 2007.[93] Hitchens said that organised religion is "the main source of hatred in the world",[94] "[v]iolent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: [it] ought to have a great deal on its conscience". He was relieved to see no evidence for a Heaven, which to him would function like "a celestial North Korea". He often spoke about his efforts to champion "antitheist" as a descriptor as "atheist" was not strong enough to encompass the immoral conundrum that the existence of a "supervising deity" would imply. In God Is Not Great, Hitchens said that we need a renewed Enlightenment.[95]

In February 2010, Christopher Hitchens was named to the Honorary Board of distinguished achievers of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.[96] On 26 November 2010, Hitchens appeared in Toronto, Ontario at the Munk Debates, where he debated religion with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a convert to Roman Catholicism. Blair argued religion is a force for good, while Hitchens was against it. Preliminary results on the Munk website said 56 per cent of the votes backed the proposition (Hitchens's position) before hearing the debate, with 22 per cent against (Blair's position), and 21 per cent undecided, with Hitchens gaining a 68 per cent to 32 per cent victory over Blair after the debate.[97]

In 2012, Hitchens' wife, Carol Blue, reported that Hitchens had no deathbed conversion.[98]

The following dictum is widely attributed to Hitchens and has become known as Hitchens's razor: "What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."

Personal life[edit]

Hitchens after a talk at The College of New Jersey in March 2009

Hitchens was married twice, first to Eleni Meleagrou,[99] a Greek Cypriot, in a Greek Orthodox church[19] in 1981; the couple had a son, Alexander, and a daughter, Sophia. They divorced in 1989. From February 1990, Hitchens's girlfriend was reported as being Carol Blue, a Californian screenwriter. In 1991 Hitchens married Blue[10] in a ceremony held at the apartment of Victor Navasky, editor of The Nation. They had a daughter, Antonia.[10]

Hitchens' father, Eric Hitchens, was a commander in the British Royal Navy. Hitchens often referred to his father as simply the 'Commander'. Hitchens' father was deployed on HMS Jamaica which took part in the sinking of the German battleship Scharnhorst in the Battle of the North Cape on 26 December 1943. Christopher Hitchens would refer to his father's contribution to the war: 'Sending a Nazi convoy raider to the bottom is a better day's work than any I have ever done.' He also stated that 'the remark that most summed him [his father] up was the flat statement that the war of 1939 to 1945 had been "the only time when I really felt I knew what I was doing."'[100]

Hitchens' mother, Yvonne, died in Athens in 1973 when, despite first reports in The Times that she had been murdered, it was later concluded that her death had been the result of an apparent suicide pact with her boyfriend, Reverend Timothy Bryan. Hitchens travelled to Athens to identify his mother's body. On the subject Hitchens later said: 'She probably thought things were getting sordid—he [Bryan] wasn't able to hold a job down, she couldn't go back, she was probably about the age I am now and perhaps there was that—she'd been very pretty—and things were never going to get any better, so why go through with it? She might not have been that hard to persuade, but I know that she did try to save herself because I have the photographs still. So that was sort of the end of family life really.'[101] In reference to writing about his mother in his memoir, Hitch-22, he said, 'It was painful to write about my mother, but not very because long ago I internally managed all that. 'I even went back to Greece and I went to the graveyard while I was writing the book and decided not to write about it. I thought that would be sentimental.'[13]

Hitchens's younger brother by two-and-a-half years, Peter Hitchens, is a Christian and socially conservative journalist, although, like his brother, he had been a Trotskyist in the 1970s. The brothers had a protracted falling-out after Peter wrote that Christopher had once joked that he "didn't care if the Red Army watered its horses at Hendon" (a suburb of London).[102] Christopher denied having said this and broke off contact with his brother. He then referred to his brother as "an idiot" in a letter to Commentary, and the dispute spilled into other publications as well. Christopher eventually expressed a willingness to reconcile and to meet his new nephew (born in 1999); shortly thereafter the brothers gave several interviews together in which they said that their personal disagreements had been resolved. In 1999, the brothers debated before an audience (which included Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie and Billy Bragg) in London, televised on C-SPAN.[103] They appeared together on 21 June 2007 in the BBC current affairs discussion show Question Time. The pair engaged in a formal televised debate for the first time on 3 April 2008, at Grand Valley State University,[104] and at the Pew Forum on 12 October 2010.[105][106]

Hitchens smoked tobacco and drank hard alcohol frequently. His preferred brand of cigarette was Rothmans.[107] His preferred whiskey was Johnnie Walker Black.[108] In late 2007 he briefly gave up smoking, although he resumed during the writing of his memoir and continued until his cancer diagnosis.[109] Hitchens admitted to drinking heavily; in 2003 he wrote that his daily intake of alcohol was enough "to kill or stun the average mule", arguing that many great writers "did some of their finest work when blotto, smashed, polluted, shitfaced, squiffy, whiffled, and three sheets to the wind."[110] George Galloway accused Hitchens of being a "drink-sodden ex-Trotskyist popinjay",[111] to which Hitchens replied, "only some of which is true." Hitchens later elaborated: "He says that I am an ex-Trotskyist (true), a 'popinjay' (true enough, since the word's original Webster's definition is a target for arrows and shots), and that I cannot hold a drink (here I must protest)."[112] Hitchens's wife Carol Blue described him as "obviously an alcoholic, he functions at a really high level and he doesn't act like a drunk, so the only reason it's a bad thing is it's taking out his liver, presumably. It would be a drag for Henry Kissinger to live to a hundred and Christopher to keel over next year."[32] His profile in The New Yorker described him as drinking "like a Hemingway character: continually and to no apparent effect."[32] Oliver Burkeman writes, "Since the parting of ways on Iraq ... Hitchens claims to have detected a new, personalised nastiness in the attacks on him, especially over his fabled consumption of alcohol. He welcomes being attacked as a drinker 'because I always think it's a sign of victory when they move on to the ad hominem.' He drank, he said, 'because it makes other people less boring. I have a great terror of being bored. But I can work with or without it. It takes quite a lot to get me to slur.'"[113][114][115]

Final illness and death[edit]

Hitchens in 2010

In June 2010, Hitchens was on tour in New York promoting his memoirs Hitch-22 when he was taken into emergency care suffering from a severe pericardial effusion and then announced he was postponing his tour to undergo treatment for esophageal cancer.[116] He announced that he was undergoing treatment in a Vanity Fair piece titled "Topic of Cancer".[35] Hitchens said that he recognised the long-term prognosis was far from positive, and that he would be a "very lucky person to live another five years".[117] During his illness, Hitchens was under the care of Francis Collins and was the subject of Collins' new cancer treatment, which maps out the human genome and selectively targets damaged DNA.[118][119]

In April 2011, Hitchens was forced to cancel an appearance at the American Atheist Convention, and instead sent a letter that stated, "Nothing would have kept me from joining you except the loss of my voice (at least my speaking voice) which in turn is due to a long argument I am currently having with the specter of death." He closed with "And don't keep the faith."[120] The letter also dismissed the notion of a possible deathbed conversion, in which he claimed that "redemption and supernatural deliverance appears even more hollow and artificial to me than it did before."[120]

In September 2011, Christian apologist and debate opponent William Lane Craig stated that he was impressed with how some Christians had positive feelings for Hitchens, stating "[d]espite his vitriolic attacks upon Christianity he has a sort of lovable curmudgeonly quality about him that everybody I meet who has seen him loves Christopher Hitchens, and they are genuinely and sincerely praying for either his recovery or for his coming to know Christ as his savior before his death. People have a genuine heart-felt concern for this man."[121]

Hitchens died on 15 December 2011 at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.[122] According to Andrew Sullivan, his last words were "Capitalism. Downfall."[123][124] In accordance with his wishes, his body was donated to medical research.[125] Hitchens wrote a book-length work about his last illness, based on his Vanity Fair columns. "Mortality" was published in September 2012.[126]

Reactions to Hitchens's death[edit]

Former British prime minister Tony Blair and Hitchens at the Munk debate on religion, Toronto, November 2010

Former British prime minister Tony Blair said, "Christopher Hitchens was a complete one-off, an amazing mixture of writer, journalist, polemicist, and unique character. He was fearless in the pursuit of truth and any cause in which he believed. And there was no belief he held that he did not advocate with passion, commitment, and brilliance. He was an extraordinary, compelling, and colourful human being whom it was a privilege to know."[127]

Richard Dawkins, British evolutionary biologist at the University of Oxford and a friend of Hitchens, said, "I think he was one of the greatest orators of all time. He was a polymath, a wit, immensely knowledgeable, and a valiant fighter against all tyrants, including imaginary supernatural ones."[127]

American theoretical physicist and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, also a friend of Hitchens, said, "Christopher was a beacon of knowledge and light in a world that constantly threatens to extinguish both. He had the courage to accept the world for just what it is and not what he wanted it to be. That's the highest praise, I believe, one can give to any intellect. He understood that the universe doesn't care about our existence or welfare and he epitomized the realization that our lives have meaning only to the extent that we give them meaning."[128][129] Bill Maher paid tribute to Hitchens on his show Real Time with Bill Maher, saying, "We lost a hero of mine, a friend, and one of the great talk show guests of all time."[130] Sir Salman Rushdie and English comedian Stephen Fry paid tribute at the Christopher Hitchens Vanity Fair Memorial 2012.[131][132][133][134] Three weeks before Hitchens's death, George Eaton of the New Statesman wrote, "He is determined to ensure that he is not remembered simply as a 'lefty who turned right' or as a contrarian and provocateur. Throughout his career, he has retained a commitment to the Enlightenment values of reason, secularism and pluralism. His targets—Mother Teresa, Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger, God—are chosen not at random, but rather because they have offended one or more of these principles. The tragedy of Hitchens's illness is that it came at a time when he enjoyed a larger audience than ever. The great polemicist is certain to be remembered, but, as he is increasingly aware, perhaps not as he would like."[135]

On 9 October 2012, Hitchens was posthumously given the LennonOno Grant for Peace, accepted by his widow Carol Blue.[136]

Film and television appearances[edit]

Year Film, DVD, or TV Episode
1984 Opinions: "Greece to their Rome"
1988 Frontiers
1993 Everything You Need to Know
The Opinions Debate[137]
1994 Tracking Down Maggie: The Unofficial Biography of Margaret Thatcher
Hell's Angel (documentary)
1996 Where's Elvis This Week?
1996–2010 Charlie Rose (talk show) (13 episodes)
1998 Princess Diana: The Mourning After
1999–2001 Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher
1999–2002 Dennis Miller Live (TV show; 4 episodes)
2002 The Trials of Henry Kissinger
2003 Hidden in Plain Sight
2003–09 Real Time with Bill Maher (TV show; 6 episodes)
2004 Mel Gibson: God's Lethal Weapon
2004–06 Newsnight (TV show; 3 episodes)
2004–10 The Daily Show (TV show; 4 episodes)
2005 Penn & Teller: Bullshit! (TV show; 1 episode, s03e05)
The Al Franken Show (Radio show; 1 episode)
Confronting Iraq: Conflict and Hope
Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism
2005–08 Hardball with Chris Matthews (TV show; 3 episodes)
2006 American Zeitgeist
Blog Wars
2007 Manufacturing Dissent
Question Time (TV series) (1 episode)
Your Mommy Kills Animals
Personal Che
Heckler
In Pot We Trust
2008 Can Atheism Save Europe? (DVD; 9 August 2008 debate with John Lennox at the Edinburgh International Festival)
Discussions with Richard Dawkins: Episode 1: "The Four Horsemen" (DVD; 30 September 2007)
Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
2009 Holy Hell (Chap. 5 in 6 Part Web Film on iTunes)[138]
God on Trial (DVD; September 2008 debate with Dinesh D'Souza)
President: A Political Road Trip
Collision: "Is Christianity GOOD for the World?" (DVD; Fall 2008 debates with Douglas Wilson)
Does God Exist? (DVD; 4 April 2009 debate with William Lane Craig)
Fighting Words[139] (TV Movie; 2009)
2010 Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune
The God Debates, Part I: A Spirited Discussion (DVD; debate with Shmuley Boteach; Host: Mark Derry; Commentary: Miles Redfield)
2011 Is God Great? (DVD; 3 March 2009 debate with John Lennox at Samford University)
92Y: Christopher Hitchens (DVD; 8 June 2010 dialogue with Salman Rushdie at 92nd Street Y)
ABC Lateline[140] (TV show, 2 episodes)
2013 Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia[141] (DVD Documentary)

Books[edit]

Christopher Hitchens reading his book Hitch 22

References[edit]

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  3. ^ Hitchens, Christopher (2008). Christopher Hitchens and his Critics. New York University Press. p. 264. ISBN 0814716873. 
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  11. ^ Tracy, Marc (19 December 2011). "On Christopher Hitchens' Jewishness". Tablet Magazine. Retrieved 23 April 2016. 
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  141. ^ IMBD: Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia (2013)

External links[edit]