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Christopher Hitchens, Firebrand, Author and Atheist, Dies

Posted on the 16 December 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost
Christopher Hitchens, firebrand, author and atheist, dies

Christopher Hitchens. Photocredit: stepnout

Christopher Hitchens has died, aged 62, at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. Journalist, author and literary critic, he passed away from pneumonia, a complication of Stage IV oesophageal cancer, reported the BBC and The Times.  Devoutly atheist, he wrote eleven books, including ones about Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, was co-author on six more, and had five further collections of essasy out; he scribbled thousands of articles for magazines like The Nation, The Atlantic,  and Vanity Fair, and was constantly on television. A lover of alcohol and cigarettes, he was perhaps most famous for his book God is Not Great, which made him a familiar figure in the United States of America, where he lived. He  was born in Portsmouth, in 1949, to a naval commander, and went to the Leys School, Cambridge, and read PPE at Balliol College, Oxford University (where he got a third). His wife Carol and their daughter survive him, as do two children from a previous marriage. A bisexual, he once said that he’d given up having sex with men because he’d lost his looks and no man would have him. He is the brother of right wing journalist Peter Hitchens, with whom he had a bust up, but was recently reconciled. His career has been noted for his flamboyance, originality and wit – but there was a darker side. Obituaries mourn a fearsome intellect.

“No evidence or argument has yet been presented which would change my mind. But I like surprises.” Hitchens on atheism, quoted in The Daily Telegraph.

“Those who read him felt they knew him, and those who knew him were profoundly fortunate souls,” said Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair, quoted on the BBC .

A double life. He was a “self-confessed contrarian,” said the obituary in The Daily Telegraph, who could always be “relied upon to provide a stream of serious but witty put-downs.”  A “campaigning left-wing socialist,” he also spent his nights “wining and dining.” He loved drink and argument.

Martin Amis said  of Christopher Hitchens that “in debate, no matter what the motion, I would back him against Cicero, against Demosthenes,” quoted in The Guardian.

Outstanding reporting. He also targeted people who abused power, said The Guardian obituary, including Henry Kissinger, whom he “tried to bring to trial”, and Bill Clinton. He supported Palestine, and was excoriating about America’s role in Asia and South America. A polemicist “rather than an analyst,” he “brought to his work outstanding skills of reporting and observation.” Friends with, and associated with, a group of writers such as Ian McEwan and Martin Amis, he seemed to remember everything he read. He traveled widely, visiting most countries he wrote about, “sometimes at risk of arrest or physical attack.” He loathed tyranny – and, unlike others of his generation, that included Chairman Mao and Fidel Castro. After the September 2011 attacks, he was vehemently anti fascism “with an Islamic face”, and he broke with the left, whilst claiming not to be “any sort of conservative.” America really made his career.

Contradiction personified. “Hitch”, as he was known to his friends, also supported the invasion of Iraq, which caused a rift with former ideological “soul-mates” like Noam Chomsky and Tariq Ali, said The Times. His “predilection” for opposing the establishment came from the contempt he held for his “orthodox, authoritarian father,”  who later became “ a gin-soaked school bursar.” He loved his mother, Yvonne, “a lively, liberal figure,” who was the “granddaughter of Polish-Jewish immigrants.” Whilst at Oxford he wrote propaganda for the Socialist Workers’ Party, and worshipped George Orwell. His life was coloured by his mother’s fate – she had an affair with “an unfrocked vicar” and they had a suicide pact in Athens. After Oxford, he was “snapped up” by The New Statesman, and became known for “writing lurid, intemperate prose at speed.” In the Nineties, he debunked Mother Teresa (calling her “Hell’s Angel”), and denigrated the memory of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Hitchens on Mother Teresa: “a lying, thieving Albanian dwarf,” quoted in The Independent.

Anti-religion. He was important to the intelligentsia, said The Financial Times, because he defined areas of debate. He moved from Trotskyism to US neoconservatism. He was more interested in international affairs than national, and was dedicated to showing religion of any kind to be “at best an idiocy” and at worst “a license to legitimise violent prejudice and repression.”

A gift from God? Graydon Carter, in Vanity Fair, remembered him as “a gift from, dare I say it, God.” He was a “man of insatiable appetites – for cigarettes, for scotch, for company, for great writing, and, above all, for conversation.” Carter recalled an episode when, having taken scotch, wine and cognac, Hitchens was set up “at a rickety table” and on “an old Olivetti, and in a symphony of clacking,” he managed to make “a 1,000 word column of near perfection in under half an hour.” He would “subject himself to any manner of humiliation” for his column – including breaking “the most niggling laws” in New York City, which resulted in him peddling a bicycle with his feet on the pedals like something out of the Moscow Circus. He’ll be remembered “for his elevated but inclusive humour” and for a “staggering, almost punishing memory.” And also, “for the millions of words he left behind. They are his legacy. And, God love him, it was his will.”

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