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Posted at 01:10 AM ET, 12/16/2011

Christopher Hitchens: Looking back at a Washington character


Hitchens in Washington in May 2010, a few weeks before his cancer diagnosis. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
Christopher Hitchens died Thursday of pneumonia in a Houston hospital after a year-and-a-half battle with cancer. See the full Hitchens obituary — or read on for a look back at some Washington Post stories about him

The British-born writer found his bite as a young lefty writer in 1970s London, but went on to make a name for himself in the U.S. — particularly in Washington, living in Kalorama with his wife Carol Blue.

In recent years, the notoriously combative scribe became harder to predict politically. “He’s battered away at Henry Kissinger (‘war criminal’), Bill and Hillary Clinton (‘liars’), Mother Teresa (‘fanatic fraud’) and many more,” our colleague Manuel Roig-Franzia wrote in a 2010 profile of Hitchens. “He’s been an avowed socialist, skewered organized religion in the best-selling “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” and defended the Iraq war, a position that alienated much of the left. With Hitchens, fighting is animating.”

He poured Roig-Franzia a glass of scotch for that mid-day interview. Here’s how he looked that day, wrote our colleague:

“His hair flops disobediently into his eyes and he gathers it up from time to time with a swipe. His complexion has the pinkish hue of a man who has been known to smoke in the shower and takes his cocktails early and often. He is handsome in a rakish, though puffy, way.”

The bon vivant shocked friends by giving up smoking in 2007. “He wants to live,” Blue told us a few months later. “Live to see his political enemies defeated.” Around the same time, he documented his other beautification and clean-living efforts for Vanity Fair.

But in 2010, midway through a book tour for his well-received memoir, “Hitch-22,” he became abruptly sick — diagnosed with advanced cancer of the esophagus.

He wrote eloquently about his illness, describing in Vanity Fair his travels through “the land of the sick.” (“There seems to be almost no talk of sex, and the cuisine is the worst of any destination I have ever visited”). An avowed atheist, Hitchens chafed at those who prayed for his health or expected a deathbed conversion.

Last fall, he and his brother Peter — a devout believer — met in Washington for a public debate about faith. Hitchens looked frail at the time, but spoke powerfully. “I have resented the idea that it should be assumed, now that you may be terrified, or depressed, that now would be the time to throw out values you have had for a lifetime,” he said. “Repulsive. Wholly contemptible.” But he also said he resented the well-wishes of secular types, constantly telling him he was too tough to lose a cancer battle – would that make him a failure if he died, he wondered?

He is survived by Blue, their daughter Antonia, and two children from a previous marriage, Alexander and Sophia.

No ifs, and or butts: Hitchens calls it quits, 1/7/08

Hitchens Soaps Up in Vanity Fair: Oh, the Horror!, 10/2/07

Christopher Hitchens diagnosed with cancer, cuts short his book tour, 6/30/10

Christopher Hitchens on life in the “land of the sick,” 8/4/10

Christopher Hitchens on prayers for his health, 9/2/10

Christopher and Peter Hitchens spar over religion in cold, civilized debate, 10/13/10

Christopher Hitchens profiled in Washington Post, 6/3/10

Christopher Hitchens dies; Vanity Fair writer was a religious skeptic, master of the contrarian essay, 12/16/11

By  |  01:10 AM ET, 12/16/2011

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