On Thursday, prolific polemicist Christopher Hitchens died from complications of esophageal cancer. He was 62. A Vanity Fair contributing editor, Slate columnist, and regular essayist for The Atlantic, Hitchens was the author of numerous books, including the 2007 bestseller God Is Not Great. He was known for his sharp wit, avowed atheism, love of the drink, and contrarian stance on subjects ranging from Mother Theresa (against) to the Iraq war (for). Today, colleagues, friends, fellow writers, and world leaders are remembering the late great. Here, a sampling:
"He was a man of insatiable appetites — for cigarettes, for scotch, for company, for great writing, and, above all, for conversation," says Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. "That he had an output to equal what he took in was the miracle in the man. You'd be hard-pressed to find a writer who could match the volume of exquisitely crafted columns, essays, articles, and books he produced over the past four decades."
"Editing Christopher Hitchens... was the easiest job in journalism," says June Thomas at Slate. "He had a prodigious memory... Shortly after the news of Sen. Larry Craig's arrest in an airport men's room broke, Hitchens filed the piece that for me best exemplifies the breadth of his interests and the completeness of his recall — it contained quotes from an obscure academic work, recollections of hilariously profane bathroom graffiti, remembered conversations with British politicians, and lines of satirical verse published decades earlier."
"Like his hero, Orwell, Christopher prized bravery above all other qualities — and in particular the bravery required for unflinching honesty," says Benjamin Schwarz at The Atlantic. "This most intellectual of men valued intelligence, but valued courage far more — or rather, he believed that true intellect was inseparable from courage."
His friends and contemporaries
"Lunch — dinner, drinks, any occasion — with Christopher always was [bracing]," says Christopher Buckley in The New Yorker. "One of our lunches, at Café Milano, the Rick's Café of Washington, began at 1 P.M., and ended at 11:30 P.M. At about nine o’clock (though my memory is somewhat hazy), he said, 'Should we order more food?' I somehow crawled home, where I remained under medical supervision for several weeks, packed in ice with a morphine drip. Christopher probably went home that night and wrote a biography of Orwell. His stamina was as epic as his erudition and wit."
"Goodbye, my beloved friend," says novelist Salman Rushdie via Twitter. "A great voice falls silent. A great heart stops."
He was the "finest orator of our time" and a "valiant fighter against all tyrants including God," says writer Richard Dawkins, a vocal atheist like Hitchens.
"I knew Hitchens only by reading him. To read him was to be deeply impressed — envious, if you were a writer yourself — and at some point to have been deeply pissed off by him," says James Poniewozik at TIME. "Hitchens knew when to care greatly about the larger world, and when, therefore, not to give a rat's ass what the larger world thought of him. It's one thing for a writer to be principled, and it's one thing for a writer to be a jerk; it’s a rare thing to be a principled jerk, and that's what Hitchens was."
"Religion, he wrote is 'violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive towards children,'" says Roy Greenslade at The Guardian. "Thinking back to the 1970s, I can hear him saying that, with many adjectives and expletives thrown in for good measure. And that's how I wish to remember him."
"The world has lost one of its most outstanding and prolific journalists and a wonderful polemicist, orator and bon vivant," says George Eaton at New Statesman. "In his later years, Hitchens was fond of quoting his late mother's assertion that 'the one unforgivable sin is to be boring'. Today, as I realise I will never hear that resonant baritone again, that Hitchens' mighty pen is still, I feel certain in saying that the world has become a more boring place."
"Christopher Hitchens was a complete one-off, an amazing mixture of writer, journalist, polemicist, and unique character," said former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "He was fearless in the pursuit of truth and any cause in which he believed. And there was no belief he held that he did not advocate with passion, commitment and brilliance."
"Christopher Hitchens was everything a great essayist should be: infuriating, brilliant, highly provocative and yet intensely serious," says Britain's Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who interned for Hitchens years ago and was charged with fact-checking his articles. "He had a photographic memory and an encyclopedic mind," he recalls. "It was the easiest job I've ever done."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- The mystery behind China's aggressive push into space
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- The 5 best and worst states for a well-lived life
- The 6 best low-cost smartphones
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Why Texas' abortion rates aren't falling as quickly as everyone expected
- Yes, Republicans can impeach President Obama
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- Why GOP reformers are bound to fail
- What religious traditionalists can teach us about sex
Subscribe to the Week