Mortality And Christopher Hitchens Brilliance In The Face Of Cancer

Christopher Hitchens & The Final Words He Left Us

This effortlessly sharp and enviably charming man has, in postmortem, proven to be one of the biggest influences on my life.

He is, of course, most well recognised and famous for being one of religion’s most devastating antagonists. Boasting how he is the only man to have represented the Devil ‘pro bono’. And yes, he is certainly most famous for his stance against God, but his full library of work is so much more.

While his tirade against organised belief may well define his mainstream legacy, it is by no means true that he was a one-string man. When Christopher Hitchens published ‘God Is Not Great’ in 2007, he joined a swelling movement of ‘new atheists’ that were writing controversy throughout America. Religious extremism had captured the attention of the globe, making Christopher Hitchens’s book tour, consisting of wonderfully entertaining TV appearances and public debates, unusually popular.

I will write a more comprehensive Christopher Hitchens bio in another post, but for the sake of introducing him here. Christopher Hitchens is one of the most accomplished journalists, influencers, writers and boozers of the modern age.

How Did Christopher Hitchens Die?

He succumbed to cancer of the oesophagus on December 15, 2011.

Written from his various death beds, Mortality is a wonderfully casual ‘coming to terms with cancer’ departure. Christopher cuts through the weeds of Tumourtown with the same ironic inflection that defined his career and is proven through his immortality on YouTube, his signature legacy.

The Alien Who Felled Me

The story documents Christopher’s life along the timeline between the day of diagnosis and the day of death.

‘The night of the terrible morning’ Hitchens was diagnosed, He was scheduled to appear as a guest on Jon Stewarts Daily Show. Hitchens writes…

“I have more than once in my time woken up feeling like death. But nothing prepared me for the early morning in June when I came to consciousness feeling as if I were actually shackled to my own corpse”

He has appeared as a guest on the show before and served as one Jon Stewart’s toughest combatants. Hitchens was no different on the day of his discovered sickness either, passing off a charming performance offering nothing amiss. This opening to the book marks the first instance of many where you realise – through his absence – everything we missed out on.

Trying To Make Sense Of It

“I can’t see myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it even bores me”

In Hitch-22, an autobiography written and published with the author ignorant of his festering cancer, Hitchens speaks much of how he has been ‘burning the candle from both ends’.

He is a celebrated smoker and boozer and often commented on how lucky he felt for not feeling worse. He gave the impression that his good health was unearned. His skin always looked so unblemished. In his 40’s he could have been in his 20’s and even in his late 50’s it appeared as if he was in his early 40’s. Up until the damage of his chemotherapy, he looked so much opposed to the expectation of the heavy-laden toxin consuming facade you would expect.

Hitchens never had a solipsistic view of the world. He didn’t have the ‘of all the people, how could this have happened to me’ complex. He was strong and steadfast contemplating the ‘why me’ question. The absence of religious or posthumous significance, beyond his children, had an influence on his life which rendered him stoic and understanding of the position he faced.

He writes:

“To the dumb question, why me? The cosmos barely bothers to return the reply, why not?”

Your significance is inconsequential to the great picture. Rather than your meaning coming from your place in the cosmos, your meaning needs to derive from your work, your character. What you produce.

Wrestling With God – Christopher Hitchens

Many the religidiot made a fuss over God striking down Hitchens with cancer precisely to the very organ that was the cause of so much blasphemy. Cancer of the throat was what he had coming for his tirade against religion they would say. Hitchens received much of this, and as you can imagine, dealt with it through pure wit.

In response to the claim that Hitchens’s voice was the source of his blasphemy, he reminds us that it is by no means the only organ with which he had blasphemed.


Perhaps Hitchens should have hedged his bets by making use of Pascal’s Wager, a concept Christopher made reference to regularly. Why not at least pretend to believe in God. You don’t need to actually believe it, just hedge your bets. If you are met by God at the pearly gates then perhaps you have a chance, if it’s just black, then it didn’t matter anyway.

”Volatire, who, when badgered and on his deathbed was urged to renounce the devil, murmured that this was no time to be making enemies”

Absolutely unrelenting with his ongoing polemic against religion, Hitchens likens the absurdity of prayer by quoting Ambrose Bierce in his ‘Devils Dictionary’.

“Prayer, a petition that the laws of nature be suspended in favour of the petitioner, himself confessedly unworthy”

His love of irony had no caveat.

Cancer Etiquette

No cancer victim wants the disease to be the centre of all discussion.

Miracle cures and perceived to be friendly but uninvited anecdotes steal the focus of all interactions. Hitchens was as broad a conversationalist as they come so the constant and narrowed cancer chat drove him mad.

But of course, not all was without humour and irony. Hitchens records this solemn interchange he had at a book signing with a ‘motherly looking woman’.

SHE: I was so sorry to hear you had been ill.
HIM: Thank you for saying so.
SHE: A cousin of mine had cancer.
HIM: Oh, I am sorry to hear that.
SHE: (As the line of customers lengthens behind her) Yes, in his liver.
HIM: That’s never good.
SHE: But it went away after the doctors had told him it was incurable.
HIM: Well, that’s what we all want to hear.
SHE: (With those farther back in line now showing signs of impatience) Yes. But then in came back, much worse than before.
HIM: Oh, how dreadful.
SHE: And then he died. It was agonising. Agonising. Seemed to take him forever.
HIM: (Beginning to search for words)…
SHE: Of course, he was a lifelong homosexual.
HIM: (Not quite finding the words, and not wishing to sound stupid by echoing “of course”)…
SHE: And his whole immediate family disowned him. He died virtually alone.
HIM: Well, I hardly know what to…
SHE: Anyway, I just wanted you to know that I understand exactly what you are going through.

It is important to be empathetic, but no one wants to sport a lapel button that reads, ‘ask me about stage 4 metastasised cancer, and only about that’. All his conversations, even the absurd, was centrally pivoted around cancer and how we all manage to cope

Your Voice

Hitchens said that if you can talk then you can write.

The soul and value of a writer is in his ‘voice’. In the context of Christopher losing his own, he explains how your voice is so much more than what comes from the throat. Humour, wit, truth, evidence, fear of the dull and most important, irony. These qualities constituted Hitchens’s voice. It is a terrible loss that we don’t have Hitchens now. Terrible we don’t have him to commentate on a Donald Trump world, where social commentary and contribution are eclipsed day on day by stupidity and falsehoods.

What a tragic loss. But perhaps if Hitchens didn’t burn the candle from both ends then he wouldn’t have managed to leave as evident a mark as he did. Perhaps it is all in place precisely as it was supposed to be. The influence this man has had over so many is his serum of immortality.

Finally, Christopher leaves us with a lighthearted acceptance of his ailment, it liberates Christopher from the English people’s burden to never ‘make a fuss’. He never wanted to bore and he therefore never did. His alien roommate, captain malignant, the dull, unoriginal cancerous tumour ended up victorious his body. But thank goodness for YouTube and the written word. For with these, despite Christopher’s absence, he still manages to talk with us every day.

Written by the father of his best friend, Martin Amis – Kingsley Amis.

“Death has much to be said for it,
You don’t have to get out of bed for it,
wherever you happen to be,
They bring it to you – free”

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Cheers for reading through to the end you legend!

Every month (or couple of weeks) I write a short, popular email which highlights the biggest insights I’ve distilled through all the noise of the previous month. This includes extremely cool ideas, exceptional companies, massive stories that weren’t given attention, the music and podcasts that defined that month plus of course the best-written content I came across.


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