Charlie Rose: Hitchens tribute

April 15, 2012 • 7:04 am

On Friday, which would have been Christopher Hitchens’s 62nd birthday, the American interviewer Charlie Rose discussed the man with several of his friends, including Salman Rushdie, James Fenton, and of course Martin Amis. The video hasn’t yet been put up, but I’ll link to it when it is.

In the meantime, here’s a two-minute “memorial” that Rose broadcast the day after Hitchens died last December 15.  It’s the interview when Hitch was asked whether he would still have smoked and boozed had he known what the consequences would be.

Rose:  If you had known that there was a possibility of getting cancer, you would have never smoked—you would have never smoked a cigarette—you would never drank, or consumed the amount of liquor you consumed?

Hitchens: No, I think all the time I’ve felt that life is a wager, and that I was probably getting more out of leading a bohemian existence, as a writer, than I would have if I didn’t.  So, writing is what is important to me, and anything that helps me do that—or enhances or prolongs and deepens and sometimes intensifies argument and conversation — is worth it to me, for sure. So I was knowingly taking a risk, though I wouldn’t recommend it to others.

On that inteview he added (not shown in the video) that it was “impossible for me to imagine having my life without going to those parties, without having those late nights, without that second bottle.”

His life was tragically short, but I’ll wager that he packed more into that existence that any other writer who was given eight decades.  And I remember this when I’m reproved by readers, as I sometimes am, for displaying the “unhealthy” foods I consume on my travels.  I’d ask those people why they’re not consuming a diet consisting solely of vegetables and nuts, and starving themselves—all of which enhance longevity. (BTW, I don’t eat like that all the time!)

Past a certain age, the content of a life is at least as important as its duration, and all of us, save perhaps the exercise and vegetable mavens, are doing things that we know, whether or not we repress that knowledge, will shorten our lives. The important thing is this: when, like Hitchens, you look back on your life from your deathbed, will you think that it was a good run? Will you really regret not having published more scientific papers? Or will you regret having not taken more risks?

Excuse the lachrymosity; I miss the man this morning.

85 thoughts on “Charlie Rose: Hitchens tribute

    1. I’m not fluent in Spanish, but I bothered to translate this so I’ll write what I came up with:

      “I agree 100% with Jerry and Hitch. It doesn’t pay to live in order to die healthy.”

      1. Nice, I speak French which is sufficiently similar to Spanish to enable me to understand these Spanish sentences. 100% d’accord avec Jerry et Hitch. Ça vaut pas la peine de vivre pour mourir sain.
        Different species of the Latin common ancestor. It’s actually a great example of evolution.

        1. And I think Darwin mentions the development, dispersal and division of languages as a way in to explaining the diversity of species.

  1. One of your best posts, JAC. I passed on the career of general surgeon, out there saving lives, as it were, to become an orthopaedic surgeon, because along the way, I realized how much difference it made in the quality of life and that, to my mind, quality is more important than quantity. For that same reason, I coined the verb “to kvork”, in honor of Dr. Kavorkian. Better to shorten a miserably long dying process, when there is no more enjoyable living process.

    1. A poem by By Marilyn LaCourt

      Now I lay me down to sleep
      I hope to die before I wake
      Cause, I already ate my cake
      No pie in the sky
      From which to partake

      I’ve had my fill. I feel no hunger
      No desire to be much younger.
      Been there, done that, and now I wish…
      No longer to exit….
      Yes, no longer to exist.

      Don’t feel bad. It’s okay
      No more to do, no reason to stay
      I’ve loved you all along the way
      You loved me too
      You fed me cake
      I tasted your frosting sweet and true

      I’m not greedy, had my fill
      Had my cake and ate it too
      When death comes to make its call
      As it will for us all
      I can say life tasted good
      I ate it all. I’ve had my fill

      Make a difference? Thought I could
      I used to think perhaps I would….
      I can’t do busy. It makes me dizzy
      And now I’m boring even me.

      Wiser folks than me
      Left an awesome legacy
      But no one ever lives forever
      Even if they once were clever
      Dementia knows no boundaries
      Staying too long is just plain wrong

      Bodies give out like well-worn shoes
      Minds go to mush like left over stews
      Loved ones are tasked with the care
      Of empty shells with no one there
      To linger too long would be a mistake
      One I hope not to make

      Conscience guides me
      Don’t get greedy
      Best to leave before I’m needy
      I’ve had a long run. It’s been good
      I want to go now. It’s time… I should

  2. “Will you really regret not having published more scientific papers? Or will you regret having not taken more risks?”

    The latter, by a long shot. There are those who strive to increase their lifespan for the sake of a longer lifespan, never asking, is what I’m doing with it worth the effort (or deprivation).

  3. Whenever Hitchens is broached, I always share this clip which I think represents the man in nearly all his attributes. I’ve seen it over a hundred times and it still ties a knot in my stomach. He is talking to an audience of children, presumably at a Christian church, on the perils of certainty, and the hunger for knowledge. It is, hands down, (and the background music helps) the most poignant video I have seen of the man who served as the most powerful inspiration to this humble writer. And I miss him greatly as well.

    1. For me, that syrupy background music is offensive. It artificially swells you up and his words don’t need it. I found myself gritting my teeth.

      1. I agree the music is over the top, however the words are still moving. I understand how the music is a mood killer for you though.

    2. Heber, I too have seen that clip a hundred times and it always moves me deeply. I miss him a lot, especially these days when it’s his birthday.

      BTW, there is another tribute with the same speech here, which I find even more moving:

    3. This is what Anne Crumpacker wrote about this very debate:

      “I attended the Christopher Hitchens/ William Dembski debate at Prestonwood Baptist Church Plano, Texas: in Dallas. Hitch’s closing remarks were not only startlingly brilliant & inspirational, but were all the more poignant since we knew that he was facing his own poisoned chalice—esophageal cancer. Publicly sober as to his prognosis, Hitchens had no intention to go gentle into that good night. I estimate there were about fifty atheists in the pews that morning. We had all relished Hitch’s performance, but were shocked and saddened by his outward signs of his illness. Speaking only for myself, but I strongly suspect my pewmates would agree, Hitch’s closing remarks that morning transcended the debate. They were closing remarks to a life’s work and a charge to continue what he had started”

  4. In honor of Hitch’s birthday I’ve been listening to his reading of “god Is Not Great” on CD this past week while in transit. A bittersweet experience, to say the least. If you haven’t had the pleasure of listening to him reading his own work may I humbly recommend it, though you will feel his absence sharply.

    1. …curiously enough, that was breakfast this morning. Along with a bowl of freshly-cut mango, kiwi, and blackberries.

      See? You can have your Kate and Edith, too.



        1. (FYI: That was the name of a silly TV show which carried a silly song with a chorus about having your Kate and Edith, too. Silly of me to post, though.)

          1. I could be wrong, but I think it was the refrain or “hook” of a Roger Miller song:

            “You can’t have your Kate, and your Edith too,
            You rascal you,

      1. All that is important to remember is “balance, variety and moderation” when it comes to food specifically – and life in general…

  5. It’s all about the balance, of course. As far as I’m concerned, a life without indulgences isn’t a life worth living. A week ago, I treated my parents to a Dim Sum brunch, and we pigged out, and it was wonderful. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    I also wouldn’t want to eat like that every day, because then I’d get fat and diabetic and I wouldn’t be able to enjoy all sorts of other indulgences.

    One of those indulgences that I have denied myself the past couple years is riding my bike. There just hasn’t been enough time with my work schedule. But, as of the past couple weeks, I’m now only working two days a week, and that’s precisely so I can start living my life again. And, as one of the first steps in that process, in a few minutes, I’m going to clean up the bike so I can get back on it. Before long, it should again be my primary mode of transportation.

    …which brings me to my main point. Exercise can and should be a lot of fun and an indulgence in and of itself. If it’s not, you’re doin’ it rong. Same with veggies — nothing beats munching on sugar snap peas as you’re picking them from the vine, or gnawing on artichoke leaves, or crunching through a fresh Vietnamese spring roll. That which the studies say is good for you can and should be fun as well. Mortification of the flesh is for the wacko nutjobs.

    Hitch took great joy in the booze and the smokes, and I’m glad he did. Those things just don’t hold any interest for me — I find cigarettes repulsive, and I don’t at all like being drunk. (I do enjoy a glass of wine or a beer with a meal, but I don’t partake all that often.) But he clearly found a balance that worked well for him, as demonstrated by his happiness and his thrill at living. His balance is not my balance nor anybody else’s balance…but that’s part of what makes this such an intesting world to live in.



  6. I miss him, too. If anyone hasn’t read his short “Letters to a Young Contrarian”, it does bring him back for the duration of the read.

    What I’m astounded by is the amount of work he packed into his last few years. While writing “God is Not Great” he was contributing regular articles to Vanity Fair. Once the God book was published he was debating everywhere. All the proof is the hours and hours of video saved on youtube. And still during this time he was composing his autobiography, “Hitch 22”. And still he found time to put together the portable atheist reader (he so loved George Eliot, by the way, and her “Evangelical Teaching” is included in that compendium; you glimpse her unique powers in that essay if you don’t want to wade through 800 pages of “Middlemarch”).

    I wish I had the rest of my life with him in it.

  7. “a diet consisting solely of vegetables and nuts, and starving themselves”—I’m surprised that you haven’t looked at the latest research about what consists of a healthy diet. The A to Z study done at Stanford, which compared 4 different diets, had Atkins as the best. Gary Taubes, anybody? Paleo diet? Plenty of meat, healthy fats, portioned carbs, very limited sugar. And never starve.

  8. “The important thing is this: when, like Hitchens, you look back on your life from your deathbed, will you think that it was a good run?”

    My gravestone should read: Meh, I could have done better. However, it could have gone much, much worse.

  9. I’m someone who spent his twenties (I’m now in my late thirties) immersed in cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, many late nights, and lots of great literature. I’ve always been attracted to the men and women who have that self-destructive bent, and I seek them out whenever I can. Hitchens has many of the elements of the tortured artist, and that’s what makes him so compelling to me. When he speaks, when he writes, it comes from a very human place, a place that can only be reached, in a sense, by going through the gutter.
    Sure, I enjoy my Sam Harrises and my Richard Dawkinses, but they’re a bit too clean-cut and wholesome for me; I prefer the true beasts of the earth who have wallowed in the mud and filth and speak with some earth and
    roots in their teeth. Hitchens was a glorious beast and he is well missed.

    1. I admired Hitchens greatly, too, indulgent peccadilloes and all. I will be the very last to say: “this is how one should lead one’s life.” Accomplishments and contributions are what really matter.

      And that’s why Harris and Dawkins don’t strike me, first and foremost, as “clean-cut.” The impression I get from the way they behave is that they are intensely focused on accomplishing and contributing, and simply aren’t very interested in frivolous, possibly distracting indulgences. I don’t sense that they are driven by a desire to come across as good little boys.

      But like I said, I get that it “takes all kinds.”

      1. Of all the ways in which Hitchens led his life, very few are available to most of us. Certainly by boozing and smoking we could not replicate that which is of value in Hitchens’ life. What is fabulous about Hitchens is in what he read, what he understood, what he could recite and how he could argue, and most of all how he could write. He had an extraordinary mind, and if booze and tobacco were part of the pleasure in living for that mind, so be it.

        The beauty of his life is in where he travelled, who he met, and in his courage fighting for the underdog, fighting for individual rights and justice, and fighting against power and totalitarianism and brutish thuggery. His fight against religion is a natural extension of his political fighting, fighting against the dull witted acceptance of authority and revelation, and against the end of inquiry and learning that comes from surrendering one’s mind to faith and dogmatic credulousness.

        I think we should say that is how one might wish to live one’s life, if one only could.

        1. Branvo. Yes ~ he despised those individuals & groups who [for personal gain or by reason of an assumed absolute moral authority] believe they have a mandate to limit the private thoughts, private beliefs & private actions of others

  10. Chris Hitchens amazing intellect, amazing interlocutor, amazing man of conviction and integrity. Thank you Mr Hitchens for the excellent education that you unwittingly gave me. I so enjoyed those lectures and arguments.

    1. He would not have liked “Chris” though Cliff. He made it clear a few times that he’s a “Christopher” 🙂

      1. He didn’t mind “Hitch” though. That was the nickname he preferred. He wrote that he despised “Chris”.

  11. The light that burns twice as bright, burns half as long and you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy.

    From … never mind, most of you know …

    Seeing Christopher Hitchens interviewed on CNN about three years ago change my life. It’s that simple.

  12. When I need a dose of reminder of Christopher Hitchens I break out my Audiobooks of “God is Not Great” and “Hitch-22” and listen to Mr. Hitchens in his own voice express his ownview of life and its meaning. But I will add that in several interviews he had always expressed that he would never “circumsize” his name to Chris, as it was not the name he was given, so why do we do it now? I’m not demeaning anyone who does it, here or elsewhere; even Charlie Rose did it, just itterating a perspective on the man named Hitchens. (and yes his last name was “trimmed” for his last book – Hitch-22)

  13. There is a saying usually attributed to Avicenna: “I prefer a short life with width to a narrow one with length.”

    1. As I recall Hitchins saying somewhere “moderation in all things” is not the original construction of that saying. It was originally “nothing to excess”, which is much less puritanical and po-faced.

  14. I have a habit of taking a hike around town (mainly to get away from the stresses of life and to get some alone time). After a few miles, I stop for a pint at a local brewery, then off again. My other stops consist of local libraries, where I rest up and have a bit of a read. Since Christopher’s death, I’ve been re-reading his writings, a little each day. I stop in the library and read 10-20 pages before I continue my walk. Yesterday I stopped, and damned if every Hitchens’ book was checked out. I don’t know whether to be pleased that other people in my area have such good taste, or outraged at their audacity. I found some obscure Orwell and decided that Hitch would be pleased with my selection. Now I might have to carry some Hitchens with me…and make two stops at the pub.

  15. Hitch was a addict who died from his alcoholism and cigarette addiction. I don’t think there’s any reason to think that he would not have remained a great thinker and writer had he succeeded in conquering his addictions, and I think he was deluding himself by rationalizing his use of the substances that killed him. I sense that some of the comments here justify and even romanticize his lifestyle, but I think that despite his greatness Hitch was just one more pathetic addict who killed himself completely unnecessarily with the booze and coffin nails.

      1. Mike,

        Instead of calling me names, please try one of two things: drink and smoke like Hitch did, and come back and tell me how you liked it, or, read up on alcoholism and drug addiction and see whether Hitch fits the bill.

        1. It was an accurate description of you. You have lived 69 years, but to your partner &/or acquaintances it probably feels like 369.

          Of course Hitch was an addict ~ in his time it went with the trade he practised ~ the vices he enjoyed opened doors to him that otherwise would have remained shut. Journalists in those pre-Google days depended completely on their ability to cultivate contacts & to charm their targets & sources. At this he was masterful ~ even many a creationist, Baptist bigot had a soft spot for him ~ a remarkable achievement don’t you think sir? Unlike It is part of who he was & it was his ‘free’ choice. I’m also sure that it was an excellent tool

          1. “Unlike It is part of who he was & it was his ‘free’ choice.”

            Hold on, there, Michael. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding. Are you saying “when in Rome” is a better rebuttal than the ones I offered?

            I disagree with Steve as much as you, but I think “when in Rome” is a poor rebuttal, for a couple of reasons. What if Hitch had been born in 1800 in the American south? Would it have been hunky-dorey for him to have owned and maltreated slaves, in order to foster business relationships?

            Also, “when in Rome” attempts to justify the behavior. I was trying to cut deeper and show that the behavior needs no justification. If you’re not hurting anyone else, you can smoke if you damn well please. No apologies necessary.

            1. Hi Musical. My post should have finished at the “…?”. This part:

              “Unlike It is part of who he was & it was his ‘free’ choice. I’m also sure that it was an excellent tool”

              I compose my posts in Windows notepad & then paste them ~ I didn’t notice this final nonsensical sentence. I’m sorry.

    1. Yes, there are substances which are undeniably harmful, and the use of which is ultimately unnecessary.

      But it’s not romanticizing the issue to note that the use of those substances is part of what made Hitch Hitch.

      On top of which, noting such is not necessarily an endorsement of the behavior.

      Finally, the decision to drink and smoke was Hitchens’ to make. He wasn’t hurting anybody. Why does his behavior bother you so much?

      If, IF, I were to wax judgmental about an addict, it would be because of the addict’s other behaviors, i. e., laziness, violence, etc. Not because of the substance use itself.

      1. And let’s not overlook the great pleasure he took from his vices. Who am I to condemn a man for bringing joy into his own life, with no harm to others, even if in so doing he knowingly causes harm to himself? It is exactly those choices we all make by which we define outselves.

        Whatever you do, do it with your eyes open and no regrets — and, of course, without imposing your will upon those who want you to leave them alone. That’s exactly what Hitch did, cigarettes and Johnny Walker and all.



      2. Hitch’s advice is simpatico with (albeit tamer than) the advice given by a writer he acknowledged as a youthful influence in Hitch-22, one who spurred Hitch’s burgeoning fascination with the American political landscape, and who functioned as a comrade in various leftist causes over the years — The Good Doctor of Woody Creek — although Hunter (like Hemingway) took it to the last full measure. As the epigraph from Samuel Johnson in F&L in LV has it: “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.”

        Before bringing the “romanticizing” accusations concerning the deleterious life-styles of Messrs. Hitchens and Thompson, let us recall that the actual advice each gave was “I don’t recommend it for anyone else.” Neither held his choices up as role-model worthy, particularly for aspiring writers. “The life,” as some call it, isn’t for everyone. Hell, it’s not for me. But I’ve been in close enough proximity as an occasional weekend warrior to feel the flame, to appreciate how some good folk need that existential edge, or believe they do, and thrive on it. The only point worth stressing, as far as it goes, is for us to retain the freedom to make that choice for ourselves. After that, de gustibus non disputandum est.

    2. You are 100% correct regarding cigarette and alcohol addiction – but one has to remember the era that Hitch grew up in. I remember all to well how easily one could succumb to peer pressure in the sixties – and I would have joined my parents, family and friends had it not been for an addiction I developed (quite by chance!) to weight lifting – which led to a more healthy lifestyle…

  16. “Fucking fat slags.”

    Deaths of at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians.

    Let’s keep some balance, please.

    1. OK, Mr. Informant, I’ll give it a go:

      But for starters, for balance, I don’t think Hitch was personally responsible for all 100k Iraqi civilian deaths. Indeed, I’m quite certain he wasn’t causally connected to a one of them.

      Was he wrong about invasion of Iraq? You betcha. But his motivations, I believe, were noble — primarily his deep affection for the Kurds and the justified belief they had been severely screwed over at the end of Gulf War I by GHWB’s crew. Hitch was a contrarian alright, but I don’t think he ever took a position — well, ok, a position on a serious matter — for contrariness’s sake, and certainly not on Iraq.

      Nevertheless, for all his corruscating wit, for all his ample charm, and for all his fine Oxbridge good manners, Hitchens was not particularly graceful when it came to climbing down off a bad idea (and he had a few — the primus, but by no means inter pares, being the Iraqi invasion).

      So there you have it: a first stab, at least, at “some balance.”

  17. “impossible for me to imagine having my life without…that second bottle.”

    This strikes me as the rationalizations of an alcoholic.

    I’m disappointed that Hitchens seems to argue that excessive amounts of alcohol and cigarettes are necessary to live life to the fullest.

    1. This is not really true. While he thought it was probably necessary for him to live to the fullest. He did not recommend it to others.

    2. The second bottle of wine is when the really good conversations can start.

      I’m not a drinker, really. But there is nothing I enjoy more than the conviviality and relaxation of sitting drinking wine with good friends until dawn.

  18. Make your own choices as you will. Just hope to be remembered as fondly as Mr. Hitchens is, & as widely, with all his warts.

  19. Having, completely inexplicably, been the object of a stalker when I was younger, I am hyperventilatingly reluctant to call myself a ‘fan’ of anyone, but CH comes the closest. I appreciate his fortuitously mellifluous baritone, the polymathy, the wit, the rhetorical flexibility, the charm, even the peculiar manner of holding his spectacles.

    What I most respect is the modesty and regret he expressed for being a master of no trade, in contrast to his admiration for scholars who reveal the new. The man died a good death; no self-pity, no kow-towing to puritan anti-joy moralisers. He did not, à la Dylan Thomas’ banal poem, ‘go gently into that good night’, he knew that death is sh*t and faced, rather than raged against, it.

    Raise a glass, light up a fag and Sláinte.

  20. I raised a glass for Hitch’s birthday. A passionate, clever, erudite, acerbic man – who did not suffer fools or folly – greatly missed!

  21. *nitpick* Hitch would have been 63.

    “You can resolve to give up drinking, smoking and loving; you don’t live any longer, it just seems like it”.

    I’m not sure where the quote comes from but I think it was Clement Freud.

  22. CH was always interesting, and never backed down from making an uncomfortable or politically “incorrect” point. Personally I think Iraq is an excellent example. The outcome of the invasion has been horrendous, but Saddam Hussein was a sadistic genocidal tyrant whose military machine – with or without WMD – was used to terrorise his own ethnic minorities and his neighbours.

    Hitchens’s lifestyle was entirely his own business. In our helth-and-safety obsessed culture, it has become a moral imperative to live on into a lengthy, frail old age, with many years of unaffordable pensions and even more unaffordable health care. In a world of 7 billion, the time comes to make way for anther generation. As an ex-smoker, I can still remember understanding exactly what Conan Doyle’s Holmes meant by “a three pipe problem”. Abstainers should not presume that nicotine and alcohol and caffeine do not have their unique pleasures and uses.

    Almost all my personal heroes died before the age of 60, with a few exceptions of course. Wondering what Shakespeare might have written in his dotage is a depressing pastime. Living is a means to some end, not an end in itself.

    1. I trust that Hitch’s youngest is at or close to her age of majority, so as to have been fortunate to have kept her father around (despite his acknowledgement of the eventual need to “get out of the way”) for some quality block of time. I say that from the perspective of one who at age four lost his father to a second heart attack at age 36, due to some likely combination of predisposing genes, filterless Lucky Strikes and Camels, and perhaps an over-consumption of and too great an affinity for red meat (allergic to shellfish if not seafood in general).

  23. I was — and am! — a fan of Hitchens, but I won’t be getting all weepy here because I’m lachrymose intolerant.

    However, this:

    And I remember this when I’m reproved by readers, as I sometimes am, for displaying the “unhealthy” foods I consume on my travels. I’d ask those people why they’re not consuming a diet consisting solely of vegetables and nuts, and starving themselves—all of which enhance longevity.

    … is a bit thin. I’m about Jerry’s age; I have a healthy lifestyle — food, exercise, and so on. I’m not preachy about it. But it seems that whenever I commit the severe crime of sipping a beer or, heaven forfend, smoking a cigar, I’ll hear the same kind of all-or-none statements from people who seem to resent my life choices. JC, you don’t score debating points by greasing up a slippery slope with speciousness.

  24. “He was a man who knew exactly when to stop.
    He didn’t waste his nights, nor smoked,
    Nor drinked too much, I’ll tell you that.
    He lived to be a hundred years old. So what?”

    This is my life’s motto. I dedicate it to Cris Hitchens.

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