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Vanity Fair’s Christopher Hitchens, the controversial writer and cable news pundit who was critical of Mel Gibson, Michael Moore and other high-profile personalities, died Thursday of pneumonia after a long battle with esophageal cancer. He was 62.
Hitchens died at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, according to Vanity Fair, where he had served as a contributing editor since 1992.
“There will never be another like Christopher,” the magazine’s editor, Graydon Carter, said in a statement. “A man of ferocious intellect, who was as vibrant on the page as he was at the bar. Those who read him felt they knew him, and those who knew him were profoundly fortunate souls.”
Over the years, Hitchens took aim at several high-profile personalities, including Moore, Gibson, Bill Clinton, Bob Hope, George W. Bush, Sean Hannity, Billy Graham, Ronald Reagan, Princess Diana, Prince Charles, Jerry Falwell, Henry Kissinger, the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa.
Of Moore, he wrote an essay for Slate in 2004 about the filmmaker’s documentary Fahrenheit 9/11.
“To describe this film as dishonest and demagogic would almost be to promote those terms to the level of respectability,” he wrote. “To describe this film as a piece of crap would be to run the risk of a discourse that would never again rise above the excremental. To describe it as an exercise in facile crowd-pleasing would be too obvious. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness. It is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of ‘dissenting’ bravery.”
In 2006, he attacked “that bad actor and worse director” Gibson after his anti-Semitic tirade, in another essay for Slate.
“There’s a lot to dislike about Gibson,” he wrote. “He is given to furious tirades against homosexuals of the sort that make one wonder if he has some kind of subliminal or ‘unaddressed’ problem. His vulgar and nasty movies, which also feature this prejudice, are additionally replete with the cheapest caricatures of the English. Braveheart and The Patriot are two of the most laughable historical films ever made. … And it has been obvious for some time to the most meager intelligence that he is sick to his empty core with Jew-hatred.”
He also was especially critical of Clinton. In the late 1990s, he began appearing on cable TV news to criticize the then-president and wrote a book about him, titled No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton. Hitchens went on to make regular appearances on cable news shows.
Born April 13, 1949, in the U.K., Hitchens studied at Oxford. He first came to public attention in the early 1970s as a writer for left-wing magazine The New Statesman in London. After his mother died in 1973 in an apparent suicide pact with her lover, HItchens moved to New York and later Washington, where he wrote for the liberal weekly magazine The Nation.
He later broke with the left but claims he had not sided with the right.
“I’m a member of no party. I have no ideology. I’m a rationalist,” he told USA Today in June 2010.
During his career, Hitchens wrote more than a dozen books, but the one that gave him the most notoriety was 2007’s God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, in which he attacked organized religion. To the surprise of some, he remained an atheist even after being diagnosed with Stage 4 esophageal cancer in June 2010 until his death. In October, he accepted the Freethinker of the Year Award at the annual Atheist Alliance of American convention in Texas.
Hitchens, who became a U.S. citizen in 2007, was married twice and has three children. He was in the midst of a promotional tour for his memoir, Hitch-22, when he learned of his cancer diagnosis.
He continued to write for Vanity Fair, Slate and The Atlantic until his death and published a final book, a collection of essays titled Arguably, this year.
After news of Hitchens’ death broke, The New York Times stopped the presses to add his obituary to the front page of Friday’s paper.
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