Christopher Hitchens: 'Wit, charmer and troublemaker'

English-American author and journalist Christopher Hitchens died last night aged 62 at the MD Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston Texas.

Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair, where Hitchens was a contributing editor, paid tribute on the magazine’s website.

“Christopher Hitchens was a wit, a charmer and a troublemaker, and to those who knew him well, he was a gift from, dare I say, God,” he wrote.

“He died today at the MD Anderson Cancer Centre, in Houston, after a punishing battle with oesophageal cancer, the same disease that killed his father.

He said Hitchens would be remembered for his “elevated but inclusive humour” and a “staggering, almost punishing memory that held up under the most liquid of late-night conditions”.

He wrote: “And to all of us, his readers, Christopher Hitchens will be remembered for the millions of words he left behind. They are his legacy. And, God love him, it was his will.”

Hitchens, who is survived by his wife and three children, was born in Portsmouth – the son of a naval officer – and joined the Times Higher Education Supplement as a journalist after studying at Oxford. His brother – Peter – is a journalist for the Mail on Sunday.

He made his name as a campaigning left-wing journalist at the New Statesman in the 1970s before emigrating to the US in 1981 where he wrote for The Nation and then became a contributing editor to Vanity Fair in 1992.

In 2006 George Galloway memorably described him as a ‘gin-soaked former socialist Trotskyist popinjay’when he was about to address a US senate committee.

The publication of his 2007 book God Is Not Great made him a major celebrity in America and he became a US citizen in 2007.

In 2008 Hitchens subjected himself to waterboarding to find out whether or not it was torture – he concluded it was.

An outspoken atheist, he took on former prime minister Tony Blair in a televised debate last year in Toronto, Canada, linking God to a “celestial dictatorship, a kind of divine North Korea”.

His memoir Hitch-22 was published last year, the same year he was diagnosed with cancer.

Writing on Twitter, the Booker prize-winning author Salman Rushdie said: “Goodbye, my beloved friend,” he wrote. A great voice falls silent. A great heart stops. Christopher Hitchens, April 13, 1949-December 15, 2011.”

Michael Shermer, the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, wrote: “We shall miss you, your voice, your pen, & most of all your mind Christopher. The world is better because of you.”

American pastor Rick Warren, who delivered the invocation at President Barack Obama’s inauguration, wrote: “My friend Christopher Hitchens has died. I loved & prayed for him constantly & grieve his loss. He knows the Truth now.”

Science writer Richard Dawkins said: “Christopher Hitchens, finest orator of our time, fellow horseman, valiant fighter against all tyrants including God”.

The wit and wisdom of Christopher Hitchens:

  • “No evidence or argument has yet been presented which would change my mind. But I like surprises.” – discussing his steadfast atheism after he was told he had cancer.
  • “A lying, thieving Albanian dwarf” – his description of Mother Teresa.
  • “The Missionary Position” – the title of the book he wrote about her.
  • “The Bible may, indeed does, contain a warrant for trafficking in humans, for ethnic cleansing, for slavery, for bride-price, and for indiscriminate massacre, but we are not bound by any of it because it was put together by crude, uncultured human mammals.”
  • “Cluster bombs are perhaps not good in themselves, but when they are dropped on identifiable concentrations of Taliban troops, they do have a heartening effect.”
  • “He is unusually incurious, abnormally unintelligent, amazingly inarticulate, fantastically uncultured, extraordinarily uneducated, and apparently quite proud of all these things.” – on George W Bush when he was governor of Texas.
  • “Nothing concentrates the mind more than reading about oneself in the past tense” – when he read a premature announcement of his own death in an art gallery catalogue.
  • “Being a writer is what I am, rather than what I do.”

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