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Writer, Critic, And Pundit Christopher Hitchens Dead At 62

Christopher Hitchens during an RFE/RL interview one year ago.
Noted British author, critic, and polemicist Christopher Hitchens has died at the age of 62 after battling with cancer.

"Vanity Fair," which Hitchens wrote for, said he died late on December 15 in a hospital in Houston, Texas, from pneumonia, a complication of his esophageal cancer.

Hitchens was a frequent television commentator and prolific writer known for offering pro-humanist and contrarian views.

In a statement, "Vanity Fair" editor Graydon Carter described Hitchens as "a man of ferocious intellect, who was as vibrant on the [written] page as he was at the bar."

The son of a British naval officer, Hitchens was born in Portsmouth, Britain, in 1949 and graduated from Oxford in 1970.

He began his career as a correspondent for the British-based Trotskyite magazine “International Socialism.”

He was expelled from the Labour Party over his opposition to the Vietnam War.

“What drew me to revolutionary politics was, I'd have to say, the sheer fact that they were revolutionary," he recalled of his early years in a December 2010 interview with RFE/RL. "I was born in 1949, so I was almost the perfect age to be at university in 1968 and to have become very outraged by a number of things -- principally the Vietnam war, but not alone that -- and to be very discontented, as many people were for different reasons, with the boring, postwar, partly social-democratic, partly conservative consensus,” Hitchens said.

After moving to the United States in the early 1980s, he became contributing editor of “Vanity Fair” in 1992.

An engaged, prolific, and public intellectual who proclaimed his love of alcohol and cigarettes, he wrote for many other publications such as the left-leaning magazine, “The Nation.”

He was excoriating in his criticisms, titling a book on former U.S. President Bill Clinton "No One Left To Lie To" and referring to Mother Teresa as a "fanatical Albanian dwarf."

He also wrote numerous books, including “The Trial of Henry Kissinger,” where he denounced the former U.S. secretary of state, and the 2007 international anti-religion best-seller "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.”

In one of his last public appearances in October 2011 at a Free Thought Convention in Houston, Hitchens commented that "we have the same job we always had: to say as thinking people and as humans that there are no final solutions, there is no absolute truth, there is no supreme leader, there is no totalitarian solution that says that if you will just give up your freedom of inquiry, if you will just give up, if you will simply abandon your critical faculties, a world of idiotic bliss can be yours."

The attacks of September 11, 2001, sharpened Hitchens' criticism of the role of religion in the world and completed his move away from the political left.

He supported the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, backed President George W. Bush for reelection in 2004, and repeatedly chastised those whom he believed worried unduly about the feelings of Muslims.

"It's not enough that faith claims to be the solution to all problems," he wrote in 2009 after a Danish newspaper apologized for publishing caricatures of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. "It is now demanded that such a preposterous claim be made immune from any inquiry, any critique, and any ridicule."

He criticized the abuse of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the U.S. government's use of waterboarding, the simulated-drowning interrogation technique. He once submitted himself to waterboarding to convince skeptics that it was indeed a form of torture.

In the interview with RFE/RL, he took aim at theclerically dominated leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

"I don't think actually a theocratic Iran can be contained, even without nuclear weapons. I think there's a confrontation in our future between civilization -- I'll say that without embarrassment, the world that at least respects, if it doesn't always practice, the rule of law, and has devised certain forms of diplomacy and certain systems of arms control to which the Iranians are legally signatories -- and a regime that has the clearly expressed ambition to break out of and to trample all those conventions."

Hitchens was diagnosed with cancer in 2010. In an essay for “Vanity Fair,” he wrote: "I sometimes wish I were suffering in a good cause, or risking my life for the good of others, instead of just being a gravely endangered patient."

His autobiography, "Hitch-22: A Memoir," was published in June 2010.

He is survived by his wife, Carol Blue, and their daughter, as well as his two children from a previous marriage.

with additional agency reporting
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