Essayist Christopher Hitchens has died of pneumonia, stemming from his battle with esophageal cancer. He was 62. Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Graydon Carter, who worked with Hitchens for nearly two decades, was the first to pen an obit.
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Christopher was one of the first writers I called when I came to Vanity Fair in 1992. Six years before, I had called on him to write for Spy. That offer was ever so politely rejected. The Vanity Fair approach had a fee attached, though, and to my everlasting credit, he accepted and has been writing for the magazine ever since. With the exception of Dominick Dunne (who died in 2009), no writer has been more associated with Vanity Fair. There was no subject too big or too small for Christopher. Over the past two decades he traveled to just about every hot spot you can think of. He’d also subject himself to any manner of humiliation or discomfort in the name of his column. I once sent him out on a mission to break the most niggling laws still on the books in New York City. One such decree forbade riding a bicycle with your feet off the pedals. The photograph that ran with the column, of Christopher sailing a small bike through Central Park with his legs in the air, looked like something out of the Moscow Circus. When he embarked on a cause of self-improvement for a three-part series, he subjected himself to myriad treatments to improve his dental area and other dark regions. At one point I suggested he go to a well-regarded waxing parlor in town for what they indelicately call the “sack, back, and crack.” He struggled to absorb the full meaning of this, but after a few seconds he smiled a nervous smile and said, “In for a penny . . . ”
No doubt our favorite Hitchens moment in the past decade was when he submitted himself to be waterboarded in an attempt to validate his notion that the interrogation technique was somehow not torture. He lasted about five seconds. To his credit, unlike virtually every one of his neoconservative compatriots, he actually changed his position when confronted with reality.