The renowned British writer and polemicist Christopher Hitchens, whose targets ranged from God and Mother Teresa to Henry Kissinger, has died after an 18-month battle against cancer. He was 62.
Hitchens began his career in London but he moved to the United States in 1981 and enjoyed great success both as a writer and speaker, with his outspoken views and swaggering demeanor attracting much controversy over four decades.
Vanity Fair, for whom Hitchens worked for the past 19 years, said the writer died on Thursday from pneumonia, a complication of his cancer of the esophagus, at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, with friends at his side.
In an online article headlined: "In Memoriam: Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011," the magazine described him as an "incomparable critic, masterful rhetorician, fiery wit, and fearless 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 said.
"May his 62 years of living, well, so livingly console the many of us who will miss him dearly."
Hitchens, who had lived in Washington since 1982, was diagnosed in June 2010 and later underwent chemotherapy.
He learned of his illness soon after publishing a memoir, "Hitch-22," which documented a prolific career during which he became notorious for his heavy smoking, drinking and fiery clashes with critics.
His illness robbed him of his voice and hair but he had documented his declining health in his Vanity Fair column.
"My chief consolation in this year of living dyingly has been the presence of friends," he wrote in the June 2011 issue.
Salman Rushdie, a long-time friend whom Hitchens supported after Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini pronounced a death sentence on Rushdie for insulting Islam with his novel "The Satanic Verses," paid tribute on Twitter.
"Goodbye, my beloved friend. A great voice falls silent. A great heart stops. Christopher Hitchens, April 13, 1949-December 15, 2011," he wrote.
Graydon Carter, who signed Hitchens up after taking over as editor of Vanity Fair in 1992, wrote that Hitchens was "a man of insatiable appetites — for cigarettes, for scotch, for great writing, and above all, for conversation."
"You’d be hard-pressed to find a writer who could match the volume of exquisitely crafted columns, essays, articles, and books he produced over the past four decades," Carter wrote in an online tribute.
But in a reminder that Hitchens, an avowed atheist, offended possibly as many people as he attracted praise from, India’s Missionaries of Charity order, said it would pray for his soul despite his aggressive stance against its Nobel prize-winning founder, Mother Teresa.
"We will pray for him and for his family," spokeswoman Sister Christie told AFP upon hearing of the writer’s death.
In a 1995 book "The Missionary Position" and a 1994 documentary called "Hell’s Angel", Hitchens accused Mother Teresa of being a political opportunist who struck friendships with dictators and corrupt financiers in exchange for donations to her order.
He also accused her or contributing to the misery of the poor with her strident opposition to contraception and abortion.
In the past 12 months Hitchens had written about troubled US-Pakistani relations in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, and on the future of democracy in Egypt following the Arab Spring uprisings.
As his health deteriorated he also chronicled cultural issues, writing a profile of the American writer and novelist Joan Didion, and an essay on the Private Eye retrospective at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Hitchens, who studied at Oxford, was as well known for his confrontational style of debate, as for his writing, and he had clashed with such well-known figures as Henry Kissinger, whom he branded a "war criminal."
Although he ended his writing life on the political right-wing, he had started out on the left, working for the International Socialist magazine and later the New Statesman in London, where he fiercely opposed the Vietnam War.
But after the September 11 attacks in the United States a decade ago he embraced a far more interventionist foreign policy and supported the Iraq war, and denounced what he called "fascism with an Islamic face."
He leaves a wife, the American writer Carol Blue, and three children, two of whom are from an earlier marriage.