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Vanity Fair essayist Christopher Hitchens dead at 62

By the CNN Wire Staff
December 16, 2011 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
Christopher Hitchens was
Christopher Hitchens was "a master of the stunning line and the biting quip," Vanity Fair said in a statement.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Christopher Hitchens was a vocal atheist
  • Hitchens had written about his battle with cancer
  • Piers Morgan calls him the "greatest literary provocateur of my lifetime"

(CNN) -- Christopher Hitchens, the prosaic essayist whose pungent social commentary delighted his fans, enraged his detractors and engaged the legion of readers who devoured his work, has died from complications of esophageal cancer. He was 62.

"There will never be another like Christopher," said Vanity Fair magazine editor Graydon Carter, who called him "a man of ferocious intellect."

"Those who read him felt they knew him, and those who knew him were profoundly fortunate souls."

Regarded as one of the English-speaking world's great public intellectuals, Hitchens, who died Thursday, churned out literary criticism and tackled societal and political topics in magazines and books.

He wrote wry monthly columns for Vanity Fair. He penned articles for the New Statesman, the London Evening Standard, London's Daily Express, The Nation, Harper's, The Spectator, The Times Literary Supplement, New York Newsday, The Atlantic and Slate.

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Known for his hard drinking and smoking, Hitchens "was as vibrant on the page as he was at the bar," Carter said.

Hitchens became a strong voice for atheism and a strident critic of religion, writing a book called "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything."

As Hitchens went through his public battle with cancer, he went on talk shows and participated in lectures and debates where he defended atheism and vigorously took on religion.

"Humanity has lost a powerful stalwart for atheism," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. "Christopher Hitchens changed the discussion about religion and nonbelief by championing public criticism of theology."

Over the years, Hitchens had been solidly on the political left, but his beliefs couldn't be neatly categorized. He became supportive of the war in Iraq because of what he saw as the dangers of radical Islam. As his condition worsened, he kept on producing lucid material.

Born in Portsmouth, England, in 1949 and graduated from Oxford University in 1970, Hitchens eventually settled in the United States and became an American citizen.

He landed a job with Vanity Fair as a contributing editor in November 1992.

"Christopher was a master of the stunning line and the biting quip, and he had few equals in the sphere of commentary, let alone social life," a Vanity Fair statement said.

CNN's Piers Morgan tweeted about Hitchens from his official Twitter page Thursday night.

"RIP Christopher Hitchens - greatest literary provocateur of my lifetime. Huge talent, huge loss," Morgan wrote.

In 2010, Hitchens had a public debate with his younger brother, Peter -- a Christian and a writer -- on whether civilization can survive without God.

"There used to be a word which could be used unironically," he said. "People meant what they said when they said the word Christendom. There was a Christian world. Partly evolved, partly carved out by the sword, partly defended by the sword, giving way and expanding at times. But it was a meaningful name for a community of belief and value that endured for many, many centuries. It had many splendors to its name, but it's all gone now."

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