Posted on | December 16, 2011 | 25 Comments
Christopher Hitchens, a slashing polemicist in the tradition of Thomas Paine and George Orwell who trained his sights on targets as various as Henry Kissinger, the British monarchy and Mother Teresa, wrote a best-seller attacking religious belief, and dismayed his former comrades on the left by enthusiastically supporting the American-led war in Iraq, died Thursday at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He was 62.
The cause was pneumonia, a complication of esophageal cancer, said the magazine Vanity Fair, which announced the death.
Christopher Hitchens could tell a joke better than anyone I’ve ever met. I saw him do a stand-up routine at a benefit for the “PlameGate Two” in 2007 and nearly busted a gut laughing. It was not merely the jokes themselves that made me laugh so much. Rather, it was the way he delivered them.
So when I encountered Hitch at a Reason magazine happy hour near Dupont Circle later that year, I insisted that he tell some more jokes. He agreed to do this, so long as I kept the whiskey coming. He preferred Johnny Walker, but I can’t remember whether it was black or red label. At any rate, as long as I was buying the whiskey, Hitch kept telling jokes, and he went on for more than an hour, to the great amusement of myself and several friends.
Hitchens was a notorious atheist, alas. But he could tell a joke.
This one is very, very hard; I’m trying to remember the last time I cried at the death of a public figure.
Emotion is useless. We will miss them in their absence — never another chance to trade whiskey for jokes — but we ought to remember their lives more than we mourn their deaths.
UPDATE II: Ace knew Hitchens, too:
He was 62. When I saw him a few years ago . . . he acted as if he was 25.
Indeed, from his fondness for ribald jokes to his iconclastic mockery, Hitchens was eternally the prankish schoolboy.
UPDATE III: Michelle Malkin offers some very personal memories and adds:
His writings on Muslim jihadists, Islamic rage boy syndrome, and sharia law were especially compelling — and his fearless work on those topics was cited here numerous times over the years.
The Vanity Fair obit aptly calls him a “bon vivant”:
At the end, Hitchens was more engaged, relentless, hilarious, observant, and intelligent than just about everyone else — just as he had been for the last four decades.
It is important to note that Hitchens was not one of these sit-at-home-and-snark writers, but was a world-traveling reporter.