I can clearly remember the first time I read Hitch. It was June 2003, two months after Saddam Hussein had been deposed and I was temping in Oxford. Every day I'd head up to a local square, eat my sandwiches and read The Guardian's tremendous coverage as Baghdad burnt. I'd never read Vanity Fair before, but following a tip-off from a mate who guaranteed that 'once you ignore the gloss and fashion, it's full of fucking great articles', I purchased a copy to read on the train home that night.
In the issue was a Hitchens piece entitled Saddam's Long Goodbye. From the moment I started reading I felt like I did when reading Bukowski for the first time, not because of similarities in style, more that the muscularity of his prose, the intelligence hanging over every sentence and his overall brilliance made me question if I could make a career out of writing.
I subscribed to Vanity Fair the following day and not only is it the only magazine I subscribe to, it, and Hitch, have been the one constant across 8 years and seven changes of address. From sibling rivalry to faith, from St. Petersburg to Cancer, his pieces have been the one thing, no matter where I've been logistically or emotionally, that I will definitely read every month. I don't always agree with him, I'm sometimes baffled by him but, as Tony Parsons so eloquently put it this morning on Twitter, "The controversy whipped up by Christopher Hitchens caused debate about existence. The controversy whipped up by Jeremy Clarkson sells DVDs."
There have been some tremendous tributes already today after it was announced he'd lost his battle with Cancer, and I expect, and hope, that they will rain in over the coming weeks. Yet none of them will say it as well as the man himself could have, so here are a selection of his greatest quotes.
RIP Hitch, the world is a more stupid place without you.
On his cancer
“Something so predictable and banal that it bores even me.”
On anal sex
“The four most over-rated things in life are champagne, lobsters, anal sex and picnics.”
On George W. Bush
“He is unusually incurious, abnormally unintelligent, amazingly inarticulate, fantastically uncultured, extraordinarily uneducated, and apparently quite proud of all these things.”
“Religion is man-made. Even the men who made it cannot agree on what their prophets or redeemers or gurus actually said or did.”
“Faith is the surrender of the mind; it's the surrender of reason, it's the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals.”
On the war in Iraq
“Will an Iraq war make our Al Qaeda problem worse? Not likely.”
On the war in Afghanistan
“Cluster bombs are perhaps not good in themselves, but when they are dropped on identifiable concentrations of Taliban troops, they do have a heartening effect.”
“Many great writers did some of their finest work when blotto, smashed, polluted, shitfaced, squiffy, whiffled, and three sheets to the wind.”
On Mother Theresa
“A lying, thieving Albanian dwarf. She was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty.”
On cats and dogs
“Owners of dogs will have noticed that if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are god. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realise that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are gods.”
On the things he hated the most
“Stupidity, especially in its nastiest forms of racism and superstition.”
On Sarah Palin
“She's got no charisma of any kind [but] I can imagine her being mildly useful to a low-rank porn director.”
“It's a solid lesson in the limitations of self to realize that your heart is running around inside someone else's body. It also makes me quite astonishingly calm at the thought of death: I know whom I would die to protect.”
“How dismal it is to see present day Americans yearning for the very orthodoxy that their country was founded to escape.”
On his hedonistic lifestyle
“I always knew there was a risk in the bohemian lifestyle... I decided to take it because it helped my concentration, it stopped me being bored — it stopped other people being boring. It would make me want to prolong the conversation and enhance the moment. If you ask: would I do it again? I would probably say yes. But I would have quit earlier hoping to get away with the whole thing.”
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