He was a cross between Voltaire and Orwell.
Christopher Hitchens, one of the great thinkers of our time, died in Houston last night after suffering complications from esophageal cancer. The bestselling author, performer, and tireless bon vivant was only sixty-two.
In an interview on the BBC, Labour MP Denis McShane, a close friend, described Hitchens as a cross between Voltaire and George Orwell. Another friend, author Ian McEwan, reported that he was writing to the very end of his days insisting upon a desk by a window in order to produce 3000 words to meet a deadline. Hitch wrote poignantly and unflichingly about his terminal illness that was diagnosed last year just as he was going on tour to promote his autobiography, Hitch-22. As recently as eight days ago he wrote "Trial of the Will" for Vanity Fair in which he took on Neitzsche and his famous maxim, “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”
Hitchens continued to write in an effort battle against his cancer: "I was very afraid that it would stop me writing. I was really petrified with fear about that because I thought that would, among other things, diminish my will to live." Writing was his life but Hitch was also regretful that he would not be there for his family.
He burned his candle at both ends.
Born in England, Hitchens showed early promise. The child of middle class parents, his mother once declared, "If there is going to be an upper class in this country, then Christopher is going to be in it." He delivered.
In his autobiography, Hitchens confessed that he related to the two faced character Janus because he lived what he admitted was a double life. At Oxford by day he was a Trotskyite and an "ally of the working class" however, in the evenings he was a popular guest at cocktail parties where he mingled with "near-legendary members of the establishment's firmament on nearly equal terms."
Because Hitchens was famously an advocate for atheism, there are some who thought he was a bitter person because he did not approve of popular religious figures such as God, Ghandi, and Mother Teresa. Nothing could be further from the truth. He was a man who loved life and people, who lived it to the fullest, enjoying the company of many famous friends such as Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, Phillip Larkin, Stephen Fry, Tina Brown, and numerous others.
An unapologetic lifelong smoker and drinker, Hitch's beloved vices got him in the end and he said that his terminal illness was "something so predictable and banal that it bores even me." Many wondered how he could party so hard and still produce such magnificent and prolific articles. McEwan marveled how Hitch could drink a bottle of whisky and rise early in the morning to write: "He loved words . . . He could throw words up into the sky and they fell in a marvelous fashion."
(Best friend, author Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens with their first born sons in 1985 courtesy of Google Images.)
He was a courageous journalist unafraid to change his mind.
The internationally celebrated journalist began his political philosophy on the left but moved progressively to the right becoming an American citizen in 2007 and then supporting the war in Iraq thereby infuriating some of his former liberal colleagues. He was courageous in his thoughts and deeds.
Hitchens was a daring journalist who volunteered to be waterboarded in order to understand its effects upon suspected terrorists for an article he wrote in Vanity Fair entitled, "Believe me, It's torture."
He subjected himself to uncomfortable luxury spa treatments enduring full body wraps, keratin hair treatments, a Brazilian bikini wax, and dental work as research also proclaiming them torturous in his three part series for Vanity Fair, "On the Limits of Self Improvement."
He charmed Christians as well as atheists.
Hitchens wrote an international bestseller entitled God is Not Great in which he denounced religion as an affront to humanity and he was a popular figure on the debate circuit with such religious figures as Dinesh D'Souza and Rabbi Schmuly Boteach who had enormous respect for him. Hitch, like the devil, knew his bible forward and backward.
Not surprisingly, when Hitchens was diagnosed with a terminal illness in its last stages, some Christians were quick to say that the Almighty was condemning him for his non-belief. Ever the gentleman, Hitch said that he did not mind people praying for his healing as long as they did not pray for his salvation.
He complained about well wishers making him feel guilty. "An enormous number of secular and atheist friends have told me encouraging and flattering things like: 'If anyone can beat this, you can'; 'Cancer has no chance against someone like you'; 'We know you can vanquish this.' On bad days, and even on better ones, such exhortations can have a vaguely depressing effect," he wrote in an article for Vanity Fair.
"If I check out, I'll be letting all these comrades down," he said. "A different secular problem also occurs to me: What if I pulled through and the pious faction contentedly claimed that their prayers had been answered? That would somehow be irritating."
If it's a no fault universe, Hitch will be in heaven.
Christopher Hitchens always kept his mind open and was willing to change if he was shown his errors and that included beliefs about religion: "No evidence or argument has yet been presented which would change my mind. But I like surprises."
Hitch's death didn't surprise me because even he knew it was imminent. What surprised me is that I dreamed about him last night probably as he was dying. The thing is I NEVER dream. My nights are an endless unfurling of black velvet. If there is a spirit world, and I have my doubts, it is like Hitch said goodbye to me. I will miss his wisdom, grace, and pure fun but will do as he prescribed and leave hold of the doctrinaire and allow my chainless mind to do my own thinking.