Christopher Hitchens was subjected to a voluntary 60 Minutes profile on Sunday night, one of the news magazine’s patented, buttery, isn’t-he-amazing? segments. It was to Hitchens’ credit that, even with a body wracked by cancer, he still ran rings around interviewer Steve Kroft and managed to be nearly as lovable as the considerably hairier polar bears that followed him on the show.
Kroft took viewers on a brief tour of the Hitchens legend: champeen Oxford debater; daredevil journalist and take-no-prisoners essayist; full-service attacker of Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton, and Mother Theresa; Washington, D.C. bon vivant; radical-turned-George-Bush-Iraq-War supporter; aggressive atheist; legendary swiller of liquor and still smoke-smoke-smokin’ those cigarettes; recipient of a dire diagnosis of esophageal cancer.
If it sounds as though I’m making light of Hitchens’ life and causes, it’s only intended as a salute to the great man himself, who makes light of everything: He applies a witty glow to all of his public statements and his writing, even when he’s being deadly serious and ferociously combative.
The world will be a poorer place should Hitchens die from cancer; all the more reason, if this 60 Minutes piece was your introduction to him, to seek out and enjoy his work right now. I would recommend Letters to a Young Contrarian, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Hitch-22: A Memoir, and his introduction to the Penguin paperback edition of P.G. Wodehouse’s The Mating Season as starters.