Death has finally come for Christopher Hitchens, as it does for us all. He succumbed to esophageal cancer yesterday at the age of 62. I'd normally be writing Bonus Bananas today, but I feel like it would be disrespectful to ignore the passing of a writer who has had a profound influence on me.
You might be surprised how often I run into young Americans here in Paris. They're often visiting, though some are here permanently for school or other reasons. I always make it a point to engage them in conversation, probably out of my own bit of homesickness more than anything else. But the fact that I'm an American writer living in Paris always comes up and, as cliché as that might be, they almost always ask me for advice on how to make it as a writer. My advice is always the same: First live, then write.
Christopher Hitchens was the embodiment of this philosophy. While he is probably best known to the general public as a somewhat antagonistic atheist, he was actually an accomplished journalist and historian. His life was an open book, he was unapologetic about his drug and alcohol use, and he was in rare form till the very end - skewering Rick Perry in a piece published less than three weeks ago.
We've lost a true rapier wit with the death of Hitchens, and even those who vehemently disagreed with him had to admit that he was perhaps the most skilled debater of our time. His knack for profaning the sacred was a gift to us all, because little is more important to the development of humanity than challenging the way we think.
He was an inspiration to me as a writer because he was so damn good at it. I grew up in the 70's and 80's, and it was a time when you really had to pick a side - you were either with the establishment, or you were with the radicals. Writers like Hitch and Hunter Thompson made it an easy choice. His ability to destroy established beliefs through reason and evidence and his acerbic wit meant there was never a dull moment when Hitch weighed in on an argument. He made the pompous look stupid, and I loved him for it.
It's easy for some to hate a guy like Hitch, because he openly assailed so much that so many hold dear. But I think the intellectually honest among us can appreciate what he brought to the table regardless of whether they agreed with everything he had to say. He was nothing if not thought provoking, and it's my goal in life to capture some small piece of that in my own writing.
I'll leave you with the excellent tribute video that Vanity Fair produced to honor his life (I still get a chuckle every time I hear him describe Mother Theresa as "a thieving Albanian dwarf").
And while I'm sure Hitch would disapprove of the waste, I'll be pouring one out for him a little early today.
Have a great weekend, guys.