The writer, journalist and contrarian Christopher Hitchens has died at the age of 62 after crossing the border into the "land of malady" on being diagnosed with an oesophageal cancer in June 2010. Vanity Fair, for which he had written since 1992 and was made contributing editor, marked his death in a memorial article posted late on Thursday night.
The reactions to Hitchens's illness from his intellectual opponents – which ranged from undisguised glee to offers of prayers – testified to his stature as one of the leading voices of secularism since the publication in 2007 of his anti-religious polemic God is Not Great. The reaction from the author himself, who after a lifetime of "burning the candle of both ends" described his illness as "something so predictable and banal that it bores even me", testified to the sharpness of his wit and the clarity of his thinking under fire, as he dissected the discourse of "struggle" that surrounds cancer, paid tribute to the medical staff who looked after him and resolved to "resist bodily as best I can, even if only passively, and to seek the most advanced advice".
Born in 1949, Hitchens was sent to boarding school at the age of eight, his mother deciding: "If there is going to be an upper class in this country, then Christopher is going to be in it." This resolution pursued him to his time at Oxford, where he confessed to leading a "double life" as both an "ally of the working class" and as a guest at cocktail parties where he could meet "near-legendary members of the establishment's firmament on nearly equal terms".