Friday, December 16, 2011

christopher hitchens, polemicist extraodinaire, dead at 62: rip

christopher hitchens died at the tragically young age of 62 last night. while the cause was pneumonia, it was a complication from the stage four esophageal cancer that he was diagnosed with in the summer of 2010. hitchens was a prolific writer and speaker - the ultimate contrarian in seemingly all things. in almost a characterture of the outlaw literary style (a barely tamer version of hunter s. thompson - basically sans pharmaceuticals) he was self-professed hard drinker and chain smoker. it was only in his later years that he tamed the drinking.   this is an extended quote form his memoir, "hitch-22" -

"I work at home, where there is indeed a bar-room, and can suit myself. But I don't. At about half past midday, a decent slug of Mr. Walker's amber restorative, cut with Perrier water (an ideal delivery system) and no ice. At luncheon, perhaps half a bottle of red wine: not always more but never less. Then back to the desk, and ready to repeat the treatment at the evening meal. No "after dinner drinks"—​most especially nothing sweet and never, ever any brandy. "Nightcaps" depend on how well the day went, but always the mixture as before. No mixing: no messing around with a gin here and a vodka there."

ironically, the book tour for "hitch-22" was cancelled because of the cancer diagnosis and the need to begin the chemotherapy.  eerily, the book - which i read during that summer of 2010 - opened with hitchen's recount of how he dealt with the false news of his death.  encountering your very own obituary is probably equal parts hilarious and bone-chilling!

i've been a huge fan of christopher hitchens for decades - easily since the late 1980's.  over the years i came to see him as a cross between the wordsmith william safire, erudite william f. buckley, and street fighter norman mailer.  i'm sure a few more literary strains could be teased out of him - not the least would be his own favorite, george orwell. 

but in a sense, hitchens life was practically the definition of orwellian - starting off at the fringes of the radical left and, in the last decade of his life, becoming the scurge of the left when he officially parted ways in the wake of the terrorist attacks of september 11th.  ironically - again that reoccurring motif - as recently as 2009 he was voted one of the 25 most influential liberals in u.s media (ranked 14th)!

but the breath of his ire was astonishing - having labeled henry kissinger a war criminal, bill clinton a rapist, mother teresa a fraud, ridiculed reagan, hillary clinton, and princess diana to highlight just a handfull.  but he saved his best for god himself, when he published "god is not great" in 2007.  hitchens proudly confronted  his impending death an unrepentant atheist.

it is a very sad day when we lose such a fascinating and engaging person.

rest in peace christopher hitchens.


Greg Cohen said...

beautifully written and insightful, well said Frank.

rundangerously said...

thanks greg. it'll be difficult to replace hitchens as a talking head on the airwaves :(