Christopher Hitchens: 1949-2011

William Grimes pens the New York Times’ obituary —  "Polemicist Who Slashed All, Freely, With Wit“ — for Hitch, a writer of sharp teeth and Herculean productivity. (The Atlantic reports that it was a stop-the-presses addition to today’s paper.)

Vanity Fair’s editor, Graydon Carter, offers this ”In Memoriam,“ which details the legendary, unapologetic satisfaction Hitchens got from drinks and smokes: 

He was a man of insatiable appetites—for cigarettes, for scotch, for company, for great writing, and, above all, for conversation. That he had an output to equal what he took in was the miracle in the man. 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. He wrote often—constantly, in fact, and right up to the end—and he wrote fast; frequently without the benefit of a second draft or even corrections. I can recall a lunch in 1991, when I was editing The New York Observer, and he and Aimée Bell, his longtime editor, and I got together for a quick bite at a restaurant on Madison, no longer there. Christopher’s copy was due early that afternoon. Pre-lunch canisters of scotch were followed by a couple of glasses of wine during the meal and a similar quantity of post-meal cognac. That was just his intake. After stumbling back to the office, we set him up at a rickety table and with an old Olivetti, and in a symphony of clacking he produced a 1,000-word column of near perfection in under half an hour.

At NewYorker.com, Christopher Buckley writes about his 30-year friendship with the writer: 

When we made a date for a meal over the phone, he’d say, “It will be a feast of reason and a flow of soul.” I never doubted that this rococo phraseology was an original coinage, until I chanced on it, one day, in the pages of P. G. Wodehouse, the writer Christopher perhaps esteemed above all others. Wodehouse was the Master. When we met for another lunch, one that lasted only five hours, he was all a-grin with pride as he handed me a newly minted paperback reissue of Wodehouse with “Introduction by Christopher Hitchens.” “Doesn’t get much better than that,” he said, and who could not agree?

The New Yorker has put online its 2006 profile, ”He Knew He Was Right,“ by Ian Parker.

When I read the news this morning on Twitter, I thought back to this post, ”Pray For Hitch,“ posted by Andrew Sullivan just two days ago:

He is the greatest advertisement for the existential courage of the atheist I have ever known. And I say that not just from his writing, but from two and a half decades of debate and discussion with him in person. I don’t know what else to say: but pray for or think of him today, if you will. He is worthy of a particularly intense form of love.

The cultural and political landscape will be less interesting — more slack, perhaps — for Hitchens’ passing.

Photograph by John Huba for VF