Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a polymath, a charmer, and a bisexual troublemaker. He had wit and a keen appetite for verbal combat. Hitchens was in demand as a speaker on television talk shows, radio and stage, where he offered his controversial opinions in a sonorous, plummily accented voice that seemed at odds with his disheveled appearance.
He was a writer, columnist, essayist, orator; a religious, literary, and social critic; and an aggressive journalist. Hitchens was the author, and/or editor of 33 books, including five collections of essays on politics, literature and religion. His confrontational style of debate made him both a celebrated intellectual and a contentious public figure. He contributed to The Nation, The Atlantic, London Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, Slate, and Vanity Fair.
In his writings, he took on public figures such as Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger, Mother Teresa and Princess Diana.
As an antitheist he regarded the concept of a god or supreme being as a totalitarian belief that impedes individual freedom. He argued that free expression and scientific discovery should replace religion as a means of informing ethics and defining codes of conduct for human civilization. His assertion: “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence” became known as “Hitchens’s Razor”.
Hitchens’s political perspectives also appear in his wide-ranging writings. He said of Libertarianism:
“I have always found it quaint, and rather touching, that there is a movement in the USA that thinks Americans are not yet selfish enough.”
Hitchens led a life filled with heavy drinking and smoking. He died from pneumonia, a complication of esophageal cancer. He learned he had cancer while on a publicity tour in 2010 for his memoir Hitch-22, and he began frequently writing and speaking on television about his cancer.
“In whatever kind of a ‘race’ life may be, I have very abruptly become a finalist.”
He emphasized that he had not revised his position on atheism, articulated in his best-selling book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2007), although he said he had an amused appreciation at the hope, among concerned Christians, that he might undergo a late-life conversion. It didn’t happen.
Hitchens died on December 15, 2011. According to gay writer Andrew Sullivan, his last words were: “Capitalism. Downfall.”. In accordance with his wishes, his body was donated to medical research. Of course, Hitchens wrote a book about his cancer. Mortality was published in 2012.