He died from pneumonia, a complication of the oesophageal cancer he was suffering from, at a Texas hospital. Vanity Fair said there would “never be another like Christopher”.
A heavy smoker and drinker, Hitchens cut short a book tour for his memoir “Hitch 22” last year to undergo chemotherapy after being diagnosed with cancer.
Hitchens was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England in 1949. His father, Ernest, a commander in the British Royal Navy, and his mother, Yvonne, a bookkeeper, scrimped and saved so that he could attend the independent Leys School in Cambridge, and later Balliol College, Oxford.
They were determined that he would receive a top-notch education and join the upper class.
Hitchens studied at Oxford University and worked as literary critic for the New Statesman magazine in London before moving to New York to work as a journalist in 1981.
He settled in Washington the following year, initially as correspondent for the left-wing magazine The Nation. He retained his British citizenship when he became an American citizen in 2007.
He was diagnosed with cancer in June 2010, and documented his declining health in his Vanity Fair column. In an August 2010 essay for the magazine he wrote: “I love the imagery of struggle.
“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.”
Hitchens penned two dozens books – including “Letters To A Young Contrarian,” “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” and “Hitch-22: A Memoir”- and frequently made television and radio appearances.
He also taught as a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Pittsburgh and the New School of Social Research.
Hitchens is survived by his wife, Carol Blue; their daughter, Antonia; and his children from a previous marriage, Alexander and Sophia.
As a cultural pundit, Hitchens loved picking fights. He offered unsparing insight on a wide range of subjects, from politics to religion to his own his mortality, but was perhaps best known for his criticism of Mother Teresa, both in his 1994 documentary “Hell’s Angel,” and in Vanity Fair.
“[Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor,” Hitchens said. “She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction.”
An outspoken atheist – or as he preferred to be called, an antitheist – Hitchens rallied many to a belief in rational thinking by describing organized religion as the main source of hatred and tyranny in the world. In the final years of his life, he debated both religious and political figures about the nature of faith and the existence of God.
Even after being diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus in 2010, Hitchens refused to turn to a deity or organized religion for comfort. He made it clear that if anyone ever claimed he had converted at the end of his life, it would be either a lie propagated by the religious community or an effect of the cancer and treatment that made him no longer himself.
“The entity making such a remark might be a raving, terrified person whose cancer has spread to the brain. I can’t guarantee that such an entity wouldn’t make such a ridiculous remark, but no one recognizable as myself would ever make such a remark,” he said.
Mr Hitchens wrote for numerous publications including The Times Literary Supplement, the Daily Express, the London Evening Standard, Newsday and The Atlantic.
In his last essay on www.vanityfair.com, dated “January 2012,” Hitchens said his illness made him question the saying attributed to German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche that “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” [via Huffington Post, Reuters and BBC]