(HOUSTON) — Christopher Hitchens, the maverick essayist, unabashed atheist and cable television gladiator has died from pneumonia, a complication of esophageal cancer. He was 62.
Hitchens died Thursday at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, according to a statement released by Vanity Fair late Thursday night.
Born in Britain April 13, 1949, and educated at Oxford, Hitchens authored more than a dozen books. He achieved his greatest notoriety with the 2007 best-seller God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, in which he dismissed faith as wish fulfillment and religion as “the main source of hatred in the world.”
With its publication, Hitchens became the public face of atheism. Critics assumed his cancer diagnosis, in 2010, would lead Hitchens to relent and embrace God. But he remained a proud non-believer to the very end, as he made clear in an early October 2011 speech at the annual Atheist Alliance of America convention in Houston, as he accepted the Freethinker of the Year Award.
Hitchens’ career as a journalist and author took him to 60 countries and many war zones, from Bosnia to Beirut. A gifted speaker, he cemented his status as a public intellectual by debating his views around the U.S. with proponents of contrary positions.
Hitchens’ received his cancer diagnosis — stage 4 esophageal cancer — in June 2010 as he was embarking on a national tour promoting his memoir, Hitch-22.
Still, Hitchens pressed ahead. He continued to write — for Slate, The Atlantic and Vanity Fair, where he had been a contributing editor since 1992.
In 2011, he published a new book, Arguably, a collection of essays. He spoke and wrote movingly about the approaching end of his life.
Hitchens’ antipathy toward religion did not wane even when an evangelical Christian physician assumed a leading role in his care. Hitchens and Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health and the author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, had become friends when the two debated each other in public about the existence of God.
Collins used DNA mapping to find a drug that targeted the genetic mutation involved in Hitchens’ cancer.
He acknowledged, though, that cancer posed a unique challenge for someone who publicly held religion in such disregard.
“If I check out, I’ll be letting all these comrades down,” he added. “A different secular problem also occurs to me: What if I pulled through and the pious faction contentedly claimed that their prayers had been answered? That would somehow be irritating.”
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio
Susan Scutti, CNN
Ray Sanchez, CNN
Samantha Beech, CNN
Jackie Wattles, CNN