British-born journalist and atheist intellectual Christopher Hitchens, who made the US his home and backed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, died on Thursday at the age of 62.
Hitchens died in Houston, Texas, of pneumonia, a complication of cancer of the esophagus, Vanity Fair magazine said.
“Christopher Hitchens — the incomparable critic, masterful rhetorician, fiery wit and fearless bon vivant — died today at the age of 62,” Vanity Fair said.
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.
As a journalist, war correspondent and literary critic, Hitchens carved out a reputation for barbed repartee, scathing critiques of public figures and a fierce intelligence.
In his 2007 book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Hitchens took on major religions with his trenchant atheism. He argued that religion was the source of all tyranny and that many of the world’s evils have been done in the name of religion.
The son of a British naval officer, Hitchens studied at Oxford University and worked as a 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 a correspondent for the left-wing magazine The Nation. He retained his British citizenship when he became a US citizen in 2007.
Hitchens was not one to mince his words.
In his book on Bill Clinton, No One Left To Lie To, he called the former US president a “rapist” and a “con man.” He once referred to Mother Teresa of Calcutta as a “fanatical Albanian dwarf.”
The author of 25 books — including works on Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine and George Orwell — and countless articles and columns, Hitchens never lost his biting humor.
“I’m a member of a cancer elite. I rather look down on people with lesser cancers,” Hitchens said in an interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes aired on March 6.
In an interview with Reuters last year, Hitchens dismissed criticism that he moved from left to right and helped former US President George W. Bush sell the 2003 Iraq War to the US public with what turned out to be bad intelligence about weapons of mass destruction.
“Saddam was an enemy of the civilized world and he should have been taken out a long time before,” Hitchens said of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. “I have no regrets about that at all.”
The 2001 attacks on the US by Islamic fundamentalists in hijacked passenger planes made Hitchens ever more critical of the role of religion in the world and it led him to appreciate the merits of US democracy.
“I am absolutely convinced that the main source of hatred in the world is religion and organized religion,” he wrote.