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British writer Christopher Hitchens, photographed in Toronto in November 2010. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
British writer Christopher Hitchens, photographed in Toronto in November 2010. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

OBITUARY

Contrarian writer Christopher Hitchens dies at 62 Add to ...

Yvonne (née Hickman) Hitchens, described by her son as exotic and sunlit in Hitch-22, was a self-denying Jew with social ambitions, but he loved her desperately. “If there is going to be an upper class in this country, then Christopher is going to be in it,” he remembers her stating unequivocally. There was only one route–fee paying boarding schools–no matter the strain on the family finances and on his father to earn the fees.

She met a bad end. Bored with her husband, although she never officially ended the marriage, she fell in love with a bi-polar former Anglican minister, and embraced the teachings of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the same guru who had earlier bewitched the Beatles. In 1973, Mrs. Hitchens and her lover went to Athens (then under the diabolical control of the Colonels), where they holed up in adjoining rooms in a hotel with a view of the Acropolis and swallowed a lethal combination of pills and alcohol in a suicide pact.

Mr. Hitchens, who was then in his early 20s and working at The New Statesman, got the news over the telephone from a former girlfriend and set out for Greece to identify his mother’s body and bury her remains. Never one to waste an opportunity, even when devastated with grief, he wrote his first leading article for The New Statesman on his return, analyzing the political situation in Greece following the overthrow of dictator George Papadopoulos that November.

His younger brother Peter was born in 1951 when their father was posted to Malta. He too went to boarding school, followed by York University. A youthful Trotskyist member of the International Socialists and an atheist, Peter Hitchens subsequently absorbed the accents and the accoutrements of the upper middle class, renounced his early political leanings as “poison” and became a Conservative Christian journalist who is pro-family values, anti-abortion and against legalizing homosexual marriage.

The two brothers had a fractious public schism in 2001 when the younger Mr. Hitchens alleged in The Spectator that his older brother “didn’t care if the Red Army watered its horses at Hendon“–a comment which Mr. Hitchens denied. They eventually reconciled. Mr. Hitchens told The Guardian in 2006: “There is no longer any official froideur, but there’s no official–what’s the word?– chaleur, either.” That changed as his illness progressed. As recently as August 2011, Mr. Hitchens plugged his brother’s blog in a column saying his contributions “are among the most cogent being offered by anyone on the British right.”

Mr. Hitchens, who has described himself as bi-sexual in his youth, is said to have dated Anna Wintour before she became editor of Vogue. He married Eleni Meleagrou, a Greek Cypriot in 1981. They have two children, Alexander and Sophia. Mr. Hitchens left Meleagrou in 1989, when she was pregnant with their second child, for the American writer Carol Blue. They have a daughter, Antonia.

Career

Mr. Hitchens went to boarding school from the age of eight. Later he complained about the rigid social hierarchies and the forced companionship of smugly self-satisfied sons of middle-class businessmen. Lacking any appetite or aptitude for athletics, he found solace in the library and sometimes in the sexual embrace of other boys.

An excellent student, he won scholarships to The Leys School in Cambridge, and then Balliol College, Oxford. There he put the books aside–he graduated with a third class degree–to hit the streets in protest against many things including the Vietnam War, became an outspoken critic of the establishment, an avowed Trotskyite and a contributor to the magazine International Socialism.

After Oxford, he did a few temporary and freelance gigs as a researcher and editorialist for London newspapers, before landing a staff job at The New Statesman in the early 1970s. That’s where he became friends with Martin Amis and Ian McEwan, both of whom have gone on to stellar literary careers.

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