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Christopher Hitchens: From Alcoholic to Cancer Victim

Updated on August 21, 2010

Hitchens’ isn’t shy about his fondness for Johnny Walker Black Label. In fact, he’s appeared on air pathetically drunk, the whole time grasping a cup of hard liquor. During his appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher, the host called Hitchens’ out on his blatant alcoholism.

“Chris, I love you. Because, you know, for years people have been coming out on talk shows with alcohol and hiding it. Not you,” jabbed Maher.

Even more alarmingly, before this comment was made, Christopher referred to his drink as a “dope substitute”, twice. Of course he was slurring his words the entire time.

Hitchens during healthier years.
Hitchens during healthier years.

Christopher Hitchens is what many would call a “functional alcoholic”. No matter the occasion these folks hit the bottle. They go to work smashed, yet somehow are able to do what they need to in order to keep their job. The human body is amazing in its adaptability. With constant exposure to what is essentially poison, a functional alcoholic needs a drink “to feel normal.”

As documented in his memoir Hitch-22, Chris sticks to a surprisingly regimented routine. Half-past midday he’d slug back “Mr. Walker’s amber restorative” mixed with Perrier, and no ice. Red wine entered the rotation at lunch; typically half a bottle would do the job, but on occasion he’d up the dosage. After putting in a few more hours of work he’d “repeat the treatment.” Although he loathes the idea of nightcaps and Brandy, “nightcaps” were sometimes allotted depending on if it was a good day or a bad one.

Before quitting in 2008 Hitchens also enjoyed chain-smoking cigarettes. It’s not clear why he stopped, although we can assume that the ill effects became unbearable at this point. Reports note that he started nonchalantly turning down cigarettes from his colleagues, adding “don’t let me stop you from smoking.”

In July 2010, the contributing editor himself discussed his battle with cancer in Vanity Fair. His account is indeed gripping. He had woken up “feeling like death” before, but the day after his book launch in New Haven he felt as if he was shackled to his own corpse. Struggling to move and even breathe, Hitchtens called for help and was rushed to the emergency room. Both his heart and lungs were operated on, after which we went to see the oncologist for further treatment.

As an atheist and all-around controversial figure, news of Hitchens’ cancer got the reactions one would expect. Religious folk rejoiced because certainly he would see the need for God in his life while on his death bed. To nasty fundamentalists it was a matter of divine justice for his mockery of organized religion. Hitchens addressed the issue in his interview with Anderson Cooper. He stated that if he was to accept God or Jesus, it would merely be a byproduct of mental instability as he closed in on death.

Any sensible person would look to his destructive lifestyle to explain the cancer, not but these people. Religious groups have announced that they will be praying for his safety.

So does Hitchens’ regret the true culprit for his condition, a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, bohemian lifestyle? It turn out he does not. In an interview with Charlie Rose, Hitchens stated that all the time he “felt that life is a wager”. The way he lived was given credit for inspiring him as a writer. If given the chance to go it all again, Hitchens wouldn’t change a thing.


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