Christopher Hitchens, a slashing polemicist in the tradition of Thomas Paine and George Orwell who trained his sights on targets as various as Henry Kissinger, the British monarchy and Mother Teresa, wrote a best-seller attacking religious belief, and dismayed his former comrades on the left by enthusiastically supporting the American-led war in Iraq, died Thursday at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He was 62.
Armed with a quick wit and a keen appetite for combat, Mr. Hitchens was in constant demand as a speaker on television, radio and the debating platform, where he held forth in a sonorous, plummily accented voice that seemed at odds with his disheveled appearance. He was a master of the extended peroration, peppered with literary allusions, and of the bright, off-the-cuff remark.
He was truly one of my intellectual heroes; and one of my fondest ambitions would be one day to wield anything like his level of intellect, erudition, wit, or moral conviction.
So have a drink tonight to celebrate the remarkable life of a man who truly was as uncompromisingly moral as he was devastatingly, crushingly intelligent. Such a combination was much needed, and will be much missed.
I couldn't over-recommend his memoir Hitch 22, as all of a profile in moral/political/writerly courage, a cracking record of literary London and New York across a few very interesting decades and a delightful picaresque of hard drinking and razor-clawed piss-taking. And god Is Not Great is much the best of the recent-ish crop of deicidal polemics.
Finally: I've written of him often though quoted and excerpted him much more, with good reason. Those dispatches here.
I wish this weren't only a very distant second in my losses, of heroes, to vile esophageal cancer. We're facing a bittersweet Christmas holiday, the first with Rich gone from our sight (but not from our lives).