By David Folkenflik
Dec. 16, 2011
The influential writer and cultural critic Christopher Hitchens died on Thursday at the age of 62 from complications of cancer of the esophagus. Hitchens confronted his disease in part by writing, bringing the same unsparing insight to his mortality that he had directed at so many other subjects.
Over the years, Hitchens’ caustic attention was directed at a broad range of subjects, including Henry Kissinger, Prince Charles, Bob Hope, Michael Moore, the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa.
“If you’re at Vanity Fair and you’re talking about some of the things that Christopher has taken on, at the top of the list is going to be Mother Teresa,” said Graydon Carter, editor at Vanity Fair and a longtime friend.
In 1994, Hitchens co-wrote and narrated a documentary on her called Hell’s Angel.
“This profane marriage between tawdry media hype and medieval superstition gave birth to an icon which few have since had the poor taste to question,” he said in it.
Hitchens wrote about her for the magazine, too. Carter said it didn’t go over so well.
“That’s a tough topic to go after,” he said. “It was quite negative, and we had hundreds of subscription cancellations, including some from our own staff.”
Christopher Eric Hitchens was born in 1949 — the son of a British naval commander and a navy nurse — and by his own account was trained to join the British elite. He studied at a prestigious private school and then at Oxford, picking up along the way a love of smoking, drinking, politics, philosophy and argument. In 2010, Hitchens reviewed his life’s path on NPR’s Talk of the Nation as he talked about his latest memoir.
“I mean I thought of, at one point, entitling the book Both Sides Now, to describe the various ambivalences and contradictions that I’ve been faced with, or that I contained: English and American, Anglo-Celtic and Jewish, Marxist and — what shall we say — I’ve been accused of being this, accused of being a neoconservative and not always thought of it as an insult; internationalist but in a way patriotic,” he said.