Monday 14 October 2019

Author and literary critic Christopher Hitchens dies of cancer aged 62

Christopher Hitchens. Photo: AP
Christopher Hitchens. Photo: AP

CHRISTOPHER Hitchens has died at the age of 62 after his battle with oesophagal cancer.

Mr Hitchens, who wrote and spoke often about his illness, was a prolific author, essayist and critic of ideologies, literature and politicians.

He was outspoken, particularly on matters of religion, and was a famous atheist. Among his most well-known works are God Is Not Great and his 2010 memoirs Hitch-22.

Mr Hitchens, who was born in Portsmouth and became a US citizen in 2007, was diagnosed with cancer last year. He agreed to trial a new method of treating cancer through genome sequencing and was able to receive medication for a genetic mutation.

Earlier this year, he said he was "an experiment."

"At least it spares me some of the boredom of being a cancer patient because what I’m going through is very absorbing and positively inspiring. But if it doesn’t work, I don’t know what they could try next," he said.

Often described as a contrarian who enjoyed drinking and smoking, Mr Hitchens courted controversy over the terrorist attacks of September 11.

He attacked both the extremists and those on the Left, who he saw as apologists. He resigned from The Nation and supported the war in Iraq.

Referring to Islamic fundamentalism, he said: "An ideology of that sort has shown itself incapable of running even as low-level a society as Afghanistan.

"They deny themselves the talents of half the population. They believe that things like diseases and earthquakes are punishments. They have no self-criticism, so when things go wrong they have to look for the source in a Jewish-Crusader conspiracy, which is why they export their surplus young people to take their violence elsewhere.

"That’s why they’re an immediate menace to us. Their state won’t just fail on its own; they have to share their failure. Once you’ve established that, they can’t possibly win, our victory is a sure thing."

Mr Hitchens was fearless in challenging people as well as ideas, finding enemies in Henry Kissinger and Mother Teresa, who he described as "a lying, thieving Albanian dwarf".

He also had a high-profile fall-out with his brother, the Christian conservative writer Peter Hitchens, but the two had lately reconciled.

But even after his diagnosis, he continued writing his acerbic columns in which he railed against the Royal Family and celebrated the death of Osama bin Laden.

Writing on the Prince of Wales's speech on Galileo's focus on "the material aspect of reality", he said: "We have known for a long time that Prince Charles's empty sails are so rigged as to be swelled by any passing waft or breeze of crankiness and cant.

"He fell for the fake anthropologist Laurens van der Post. He was bowled over by the charms of homoeopathic medicine. He has been believably reported as saying that plants do better if you talk to them in a soothing and encouraging way.

"But this latest departure promotes him from an advocate of harmless nonsense to positively sinister nonsense."

A contributing editor to Vanity Fair, Mr Hitchens counted authors Martin Amis and Ian McEwan among his friends after meeting them at Oxford.

In September, a collection of his essays entitled Arguably, was published. He said he was also planning a "book-length meditation on malady and mortality."

Vanity Fair publisher Condé Nast announced Mr Hitchens's death in Houston, Texas.

Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair, was reported to have said there would "never be another like Christopher".

Mr Carter described Mr Hitchens as someone "of ferocious intellect, who was as vibrant on the page as he was at the bar".

"Those who read him felt they knew him, and those who knew him were profoundly fortunate souls," he said.

In May 2010, he completed the Proust Questionnaire for Vanity Fair, answering a survey completed by many famous and public faces.

In it, he said his vision of earthly bliss was "to be vindicated in my own lifetime" while his ideal way to die was "fully conscious, and either fighting or reciting (or fooling around)."

He died with friends at his bedside at the MD Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston.

He is survived by his second wife, author Carol Blue, and his three children, Alexander, Sophia and Anthonia.

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment

Back to top