The last words of Christopher Hitchens

February 10, 2015 • 10:22 am

When Christopher Hitchens was close to death, a veil was drawn around him by his friends and loved ones, and rightly so, I guess, for it’s intrusive to inquire how a man is faring on his deathbed. But I’ve always wondered, given that Hitchens was eloquent, brave, and an atheist, what his last words were. I haven’t read any accounts of his death—including his own book Mortality, which contains a eulogy by his wife Carol Blue—so the anecdote I’m about to tell may already be well known.

While looking for some information on Hitchens, I came across an account of his memorial service, held in New York on April 20, 2012, though he died in Houston on December 15 of the previous year. The account was written, curiously enough, by Andrew Sullivan for his website The Dish, and was called “The Hitch has landed“. It’s a poignant remembrance by Sullivan, who was an usher at the service. And there’s an excerpt that gives us Hitchens’s last words:

And then his last words. As he lay dying, he asked for a pen and paper and tried to write on it. After a while, he finished, held it up, looked at it and saw that it was an illegible assemblage of scribbled, meaningless hieroglyphics. “What’s the use?” he said to Steve Wasserman. Then he dozed a little, and then roused himself and uttered a couple of words that were close to inaudible. Steve asked him to repeat them. There were two:



In his end was his beginning.

You’ve surely seen the video below, but here is Hitchens in his last public appearance, two months before he died, receiving the Richard Dawkins Award in at the Texas Freethought Convention in Houston. He left his hospital bed to speak, and these may have been his last words in public, The video is set to music, but that doesn’t detract from what he said, for he fought the enemies of reason right up to the end.

I continue to read Hitchens for inspiration, and brush off those detractors who devalue his entire life simply because he was in favor of the Iraq war. The man spent his life battling totalitarianism and irrationality, and of course he was sometimes wrong. Who among us hasn’t been? But mark a few errors against the very full column of his brilliance, his fight for what he saw as true, his copious writings on so many topics, and the eloquence that inspired us all. It’s a bromide to say of someone who’s died that “they can’t be replaced,” but in the case of Hitchens it’s undeniably true.


100 thoughts on “The last words of Christopher Hitchens

  1. I still watch his videos on YouTube
    I still read his articles
    I purchased everyone of his books on Amazon
    and I still use his arguments when I have my fights with religious folks. And when I do choose to use one of his arguments I always get the same response from the religious
    because his arguments are so good there’s no refutation.
    They usually just change the subject.
    And that’s when I know that “hitch “has won another one.

    1. The one person I miss greatly in the world is Christopher Hitchens. I mourn the great loss of his brilliant mind x see him as the philosopher of our century.

    2. I am an ex Muslim, current atheist. I still miss him to this day. He helped open my eyes to many things, although I cannot go public about these things for obvious reasons. Thank you Christopher Hitchens.

    1. Me too.

      Coincidentally, I watched The Four Horsemen on YouTube again on Monday, and the Intelligence Squared debate he did with Stephen Fry again on Sunday.

      Eloquence is bliss.

  2. I just bought god is not Great Again because I misplaced my hard back copy. I then found it so I have a spare copy for donation to the local library or perhaps a church book sale!

    Everyone should also see the video where he and Stephen Fry debated (destroyed) Ann Widdecombe plus a catholic bishop.

    1. It’s always a good idea to have a second copy of that book and The God Delusion on hand for when the JW’s stop by and try to give you literature. They’re not allowed to accept anything not published by them, but it is a good way to make them leave. I use a second copy because someday one of them might take it.

  3. Thank you for that. I love Penn Jillet’s story of the time he wouldn’t let Hitch bring his bottle of scotch into Penn’s house (as Penn says, he’d be a great Mormon except for all the Mormon bullsh**t). To Jerry’s point re Iraq, Hitch was a human being, something of little note to people who minimize and caricature him. This post is another great remembrance of his humanity.

  4. Christopher was always going to be one of those very public persons who would be dislikes by some and loved by many others. I loved the guy.

    Most people will believe that the smoking and drinking were the cause of his cancer and death. I do not think it is necessarily so. I know two brothers, one a friend of mine who had the same esophageal cancer about 5 years apart and died from this. Neither of them ever smoked and drank very little.

  5. I was there that evening, and heard this speech (it was the Atheist Alliance of America convention hosted by Texas Freethought, btw.) Afterwards, Hitchens and Dawkins unexpectedly decided to talk a bit and then take questions from the audience. It was marvelous — Hitch was clearly getting more and more warmed up in front of the crowd and sounded quite like his old self. We all knew it was quite likely to be his last public appearance… as did he, and Richard.

  6. For a long time, I held off reading his autobiography because it was the last thing I’d ever read from him. Until now…

    Thanks for finding/sharing this.

    Every few months I find myself scrolling through YouTube, looking for that rare, newly uploaded lecture. I do this with the thrill of the hunt I had as a kid, going to indie record stores in search of rare B-side recordings of my favorite groups. I have hopes that future searches will turn up unpublished material so we can all continue to enjoy “new” works in the future.

    Incidentally, anyone notice a new book is scheduled For this November?

  7. Hitchens was the main catalyst for my renewed interest in learning.

    He made me think about the meaning of life, the variety of ways in which beauty can be enjoyed and instilled an impetus for intellectual rigor for which I would have loved to personally thank him for. He is a major reason for me studying and enjoying Molecular Biology.

    Funnily enough, he also taught me that their is a time and place for insults and raising your voice – but that those moments should count.

    He is sorely missed. I couldn’t recommend his work enough.

  8. Great sentiments here. I loved Hitchens’ essays but the real power was the oratory. He could just whither a rival with superior argument and I loved his tactic that when opponents would dissemble into gish gallop, he would appeal to the audience directly to affirm that he clearly made his point and that it was his opponent who had lost the script.

    Hitch + Fry v Widdecombe + bishop
    Hitch v Tony Blair
    Hitch on free speech
    Hitch + Dawkins + Grayling v gaggle of Christian apologists.

    In the last one, you could see that even Dawkins and Grayling were astonished at the power and force of his speech. They maintained a genteel, British, polite, academic style of debate. Hitch brought the rain and the thunder.

    1. Yes Hitch was a modern Cicero! His orations are unparalleled in modern times.

      I have to get to my collection of Hitch’s essays I got for my birthday last year.

      I read Mortality and it is quite good, especially the puckish remarks like, “If I convert it’s because it’s better that a believer dies than that an atheist does.” But, the way the book itself betrays Hitch’s decline in health is devastating as such lines give way to scattered sentences: thoughts left only partially expressed….like an existential play’s decline into absurdity.

    2. One of the opposition in the Hitch, RD and AG debate was Rabbi Neuberger (I don’t care if I misspelt her name) so not all Christian.

  9. Hitch for me was the Martin Luther King Jr. of atheism. Not by any analogy to discrimination but because the exerpt below, for me, is the secular ‘I have a dream’ speech:

    “In other words, that the discussion about what is good, what is beautiful, what is noble, what is pure, and what is true could always go on. Why is that important? Why would I like to do that? Because that’s the only conversation worth having. And whether it goes on or not after I die, I don’t know. But, I do know that it is the conversation I want to have while I am still alive. Which means that to me the offer of certainty, the offer of complete security, the offer of an impermeable faith that can’t give way is an offer of something not worth having. I want to live my life taking the risk all the time that I don’t know anything like enough yet… that I haven’t understood enough… that I can’t know enough… that I am always hungrily operating on the margins of a potentially great harvest of future knowledge and wisdom. I wouldn’t have it any other way. And I’d urge you to look at those who tell you, those people who tell you at your age, that you are dead until you believe as they do. What a terrible thing to be telling to children. …and that you can only live by accepting an absolute authority. Don’t think of that as a gift. Think of it as a poisoned chalice. Push it aside however tempting it is. Take the risk of thinking for yourself. Much more happiness, truth, beauty and wisdom will come to you that way.”

  10. During one of Sam Harris’ interviews with Joe Rogan, the topic was broached about Hitchen’s take on Iraq. What Sam Harris said in response to Rogan’s query was very insightful. He said something to the effect that our invasion of Iraq was certainly incompetent and stupid, but there was a very good case to be made for invading Iraq on purely humanitarian basis.

    This resonated with me because I thought, hey, this was arguably Hichens’ main concern in toppling Saddam’s regime. Talk about nuclear weapons and other geopolitical anxieties were really just red herrings. Hitchen’s heart was with the Kurdish people who were being slaughtered like cattle by the Hussein’s crime family. In other words, even we we want to say that Hitchens was ultimately wrong in his approach to the war, no one can say that his heart wasn’t in the right place.

    Also, the debate (readily available on youtube) he had with George Galloway was also very enlightening. I encourage everyone who wants a deeper understanding on Hitchens’ noble motivations on the Iraq war to watch it in full. Needless to say, the splendor of watching Hitchens speak, completely in his element, is always an end in itself even when you don’t agree.


    1. That’s more or less as I see it. Hitchens made the mistake of trusting Bush & Co. to be honest partners in a liberation effort. They weren’t. Many of us could tell this at the time, but Hitch allowed himself to believe them. I think he came to recognize this over time.

    2. ” there was a very good case to be made for invading Iraq on purely humanitarian basis. ”

      In theory, yes, but it raises the question of how many people you’re willing to kill in order to save them. That’s not a facetious question. If you can save the lives of millions, then causing the death of a few hundred is a good trade off. But it looks like we killed hundreds of thousands, so that makes the tradeoff look less appealing.

      1. Probably something statesmem (or stateswoman) along with ethicists have to think about all the time,mother live with the consequences of their decisions, as we all do. A decision to nuke Japan is one such decision. Kill innocents to shorten the war and save others.

    3. Yes and I think Sam Harris holds thise ethical perspectives as he has talked about how it is morally questionable to do nothing about ISIS as well.

    4. Yes indeed. That was my understanding too. Hitchens had real personal connection with a lot of the people actually being brutalized by Hussein and that regime.
      The reality of a regime change and the realpolitik of Bush crew have sullied that ideal but an ideal it was.

  11. Great post. I will never forget my awe of Hitchens when I first heard him in debate with Bill Danohueach in the presence of a very unwelcoming crowd. His response to Donahue on homosexuality and his reaction to the crowd after they responded negatively just captures him so well for me. An intellectual and humanist hero, no doubt about it. He is the source of so many positive inspirations. Watching and reading him is and was always thrilling.

    His comments on homosexuality are around 53:00

    1. His composure, as in this debate, was something to be admired. In the face of Donahue’s tasteless and twisted comments, Hitchens was remarkable.

  12. Ok… you know I love your site.
    And, lol, you are free to love whomever you want and do whatever you want.

    Christopher Hitchens was not helpful to women be they atheists or not.

    He has been called a few very unkind words by his besties, fellow male atheists, in this reference.
    Though they are still being unkind to women, they thought of him as the worst of their posse.

    Certainly as a pacifist myself I thought his support of what the US did in Iraq was out of line and inappropriate, but that was his posit.

    Sexism? From a fellow atheist?
    Women and men both can really do without that everywhere.
    If I may borrow a quote from you, “Think about the kids!”
    It is past due.

        1. He certainly didn’t help the cause of feminism in the interview but he wasn’t suggesting women are incapable or inferior either. It almost sounds as though he’s suggesting they should be privileged. He was very outspoken on opposition to the subjugation of women. I offered my wife the option of opting out of work if she wanted when she got pregnant, so she had great leeway to spend time nesting and then nurturing, as opposed to enrolling in day care at the earliest opportunity. She returned to work at her convenience.

          1. Yes, I did only view the most relevant return of them all. I’ll look through some more. I also ran a bing search of “flying green monkey” and got 5.3 million results. Must be something to it!

          2. All the external links referenced in the article are dead, with the exception of the one I commented on above, which is captured in patheos as “the one that takes the cake.” I’ll continue to investigate!

          3. Did you just roll your eyes at a hypothetical statement made by someone with a hypothetical temperament you have no basis for supporting?

          4. Trial by Bing. Further damning evidence:

            Christopher Hitchens sexism – 2,190,000 results

            Christopher Hitchens sexist – 39,200 results

            Christopher Hitchens sex – 343,000 results

            Christopher Hitchens atheist – 2,210,000 results

            Christopher Hitchens atheism – 519,000 results

            Christopher Hitchens journalist – 2,180,000 results

            Christopher Hitchens journalism – 255,000 results

            Christopher Hitchens cat – 2,200,000 results

            Christopher Hitchens triangle – 2,200,000 results

            The prosecution rests!

          5. I was just suspecting you might have a problem with your browser, because I am not have similar problems with the links you are.
            Try google instead.
            I like bing for a bunch of reasons.
            But google is excellent as well.

          6. Wow, patheos says men likely won’t see sexism right in front of their face… because they’re men. Maybe I just didn’t notice Hitchens was a sexist because I’m the wrong sex. And according to this article, Jerry might not care about women, he may only care about bashing religion. And apparently if we don’t all believe Harris and Dawkins are sexist, we lack critical thinking skills. And women are threatened with rape and death at atheist conventions for pointing it out. I will forever suspend judgement now, knowing that I’m likely sexist-blind because I’m a man.

          7. There is not much there. Do you have a specific piece we could analyse not just a bing search of word terms.
            He did do a piece on whether women were as funny or not. It was a bit of a joke piece but may have some truth.
            He also had had a twinkle in his eye when speaking about a women wanting or needing to work.
            Arguing against feminism, especially some radical feminism is not anti women.
            Having an argument that considers the fetus’s position is not anti-women.
            And nothing at all he has said amounts to hatred of women.
            I have not seen anything indicating misogyny however he wrote a lot so you should have no trouble provided a typical example.

          8. ” I offered my wife the option of opting out of work…”

            “He did do a piece on whether women were as funny or not. It was a bit of a joke piece but may have some truth.”

            You guys are batting a hundred, here. (For those who don’t know baseball–that’s not good.)

    1. He has been called a few very unkind words by his besties, fellow male atheists, in this reference.
      Though they are still being unkind to women, they thought of him as the worst of their posse.

      Really, who?

        1. Batting a hundred how? Do mean that some guy offering to take up the slack income wise so his partner could have a choice proves his and Hitchens misogyny, his hatred of women. That my assertion that the woman aren’t funny piece was a comical opinion piece at the request of some editor, a bit tongue in cheek but also, possibly with a component of truth, that truth being up for debate, obviously, equates to us all being women hating sexist monsters.

          1. No, no, there isn’t. I was shooting my mouth off, suggesting the first name that came to me. Upon further thought, Amis would probably be the last to call Hitchens out for sexism.

    2. Yes I have disagreed with Hitch in this area. I have to admit that while men are often accused of not recognizing sexism, sometimes I can have blind spots there too. I think it comes from associating with men all my life and adopting a strange male perspective on things although identifying as female. It’s all very strange. And of course, I don’t like to think of my heros as having odious values.

      1. I think it’s more a matter of era. Hitch was my age (and Jerry’s), and we grew up with very different sex roles (and behavior) than exist today. (Not to exculpate him for not updating his opinions & attitude…but he certainly wasn’t alone.)

    3. Sorry, but if you’re accusing us of all being sexists by admiring Hitchens, you’re dead wrong.

      Nor do you note that Hitchens repeatedly, yes repeatedly, criticized the oppression of women and said that the key to keeping them from being kept like breeding cattle was to economically empower them.

      I will maintain that the life of Christopher Hitchens was helpful to both men and women by calling out the oppressions of religion. You say otherwise. You have NO proof for your statement save your feelings. Neither do I, so to each their own.

      1. Jerry is right. Here is Hitchens in his own words (cf debate w/ Blair):
        “…we know, ladies and gentlemen, as it happens, we’re the first generation of people who do really, what the cure for poverty really is. It eluded people for a long, long time. The cure for poverty has a name, in fact: it’s called the empowerment of women. If you give women some control over the rate at which they reproduce, if you give them some say, take them off the animal cycle of reproduction to which nature and some doctrine—religious doctrine condemns them, and then if you’ll throw in a handful of seeds perhaps and some credit, the floor of everything in that village, not just poverty, but education, health, and optimism will increase. It doesn’t matter; try it in Bangladesh, try it in Bolivia, it works—works all the time. Name me one religion that stands for that, or ever has. Wherever you look in the world and you try to remove the shackles of ignorance and disease and stupidity from women, it is invariably the clericy that stands in the way”

        1. As with Bill Clinton, it’s one thing to take the right stance & speak eloquently, quite another to always reflect those values in your personal life. (BTW, I like both Clinton & Hitch.)

          1. May I ask where you think Hitch failed in any significant sense to reflect those values.

          2. No, this is too much of a thread-hijack as it is. Just note that 3 women chimed in who hold similar opinions.

      2. Hitchens did have, in my opinion, rather unfortunate sexist opinions. But that doesn’t mean one has to be a sexist in order to admire the man. And it is also true that he spoke eloquently against the oppression women suffer under religion.

        I appreciate the fact that he spoke of the economic empowerment of women as crucial, but I also believe that respect for a woman’s reproductive choices is essential, and here Hitchens failed. He had rather anachronistic and unscientific pro-life views.

        1. I think his seemingly sexist views could perhaps be due to a tiny bit of proverbial psychological baggage, and maybe a moment of weakness and mis-speaking. Which of us doesn’t have some of that? We have to look at his many other rational statements in support of women’s rights and freedoms, particularly targeting countries where women have been repressed for centuries.

  13. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go in my lifetime. For the most part I don’t feel a keen loss of not having them around like I do with Hitchens. A truly bright intellectual light was extinguished at his passing.

    I hope that his inner circle of friends and family were able to shield him from the worst of the wretchedness put out by gloating christianity, although I’m sure he was unflinching and equanimous about his dying.

    I looked for the full transcript of his remarks in the video, but could only find a precis. In his own words “Grand rabbis. Chief Ayatollahs. Infallible Popes. The peddlers of surrogate and mutant quasi-political religion and worship, the Dear Leader, Great Leader, we have no need of any of this. And looking at them and their record and the pathos of their supporters, I realize it is they who are the grand imposters. And my own imposture this evening was mild by comparison. Thank you very much”.

    No, thank you Christopher. Thank you.

  14. We are all thinking machines. It is clear we are, respectively, the summed thinking capability provided to us by the biochemical mass in our brains and the environment we live.

    Hitchens was a great thinking machine: utilizing his innate talent and filtering his environment for what he considered to be a truly important mission–making us all better thinking machines.

    No amount of gratitude feels complete. All we can do is pursue a life endorsed by critical thought.

  15. If only Hitch had written plays, like my own artistic hero, Bernard Shaw. I note this lack not as a flaw to Hitch’s literary career, but to elevate Shaw by proxy. We would all do well to be as devoted to discovering truth, dissecting falsehood, and doggedly fighting superstition as did Hitch.

    Shaw never quite got the boat with superstition. Nobody’s perfect.

  16. I hope I’ll be forgiven an embed, if it indeed embeds. And I’ve posted this here once before, but I haven’t seen this in any of the hours of Hitchslap compilations.

    Religious apologist Jonathon Kirsch says that atheism “is vandalism, exactly the same as the Taliban blowing up Buddhist statues. Hitch has three things to say to all this, even though the moderator tries to shut him up. The second Hitchslap is such a classic that even Hitch himself seems to take a moment to chuckle to himself about it. It’s an absolute classic Hitchslap — opponent tries to show off some arcane knowledge in his field of expertise. Hitch corrects him on a point of fact, displaying a far greater depth of knowledge in that field; and of course the correction just happens to demolish the point the opponent was hoping to make.

    It starts with about 40 seconds of Kirsch.

  17. Regarding Hitch’s Iraq War stance, I thought he made a serious case for removing Saddam. Ultimately I disagreed with it, but I thought he made his case fairly. The response from many on the liberal left was simply to scream “Judas” or “come back we need you”. So much tribalism. And of course the idiotic attacks on his character and motives, despite his decades long impeccable record of human rights activism & support.

    And in case anyone is not highly familiar with the closing chapters of God is Not Great (where he writes at length about religion & politics and the need for a new enlightenment) I highly recommend revisiting them frequently.

    (Apology for consecutive posts.)

  18. Rosebud!

    I wouldn’t put much truck in the words of a man whose neurons were misfiring. There is no sage advice to be had from people in their death throes (or at least, nothing in the vast majority of cases). All I see is the somber last moments of a man who is dying and is no longer master of what he says or does.

  19. Hitchens, to understate the case, was inspiring. He journeyed from Marxist to ‘New Atheist’. And he never, to my knowledge, in debating people like Tariq Ali and George Galloway, directly addressed the accusation that he was a traitor to Socialism, now, as they alleged that was a Neo-Con. Assuming that his last words are of meaning, I think they are a response to those Socialists. That his ideas were not ‘but’: they were ‘and’. The change in his ideas was not real but apparent.

    It’s his ‘But it still moves’ moment. x

    1. The simplest interpretation would be:
      “Capitalism [is our, i.e. humanity’s] downfall.”

      Highly plausible.

  20. I was there. It was my first atheist conference/convention. I’d only just come out, and he, in his videos, had given me the courage and strength, connection and cognition to deal with it.

  21. On December 15, 2015, Christopher Hitchens finally met the God he denied. It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that, the judgment. I feel sorry for him and all who deny our Creator – Savior, Jesus Christ.

    1. LOL, this is hilarious. You have NO evidence that your creator or Savior is Jesus Christ–ask a Muslim or Hindu if they believe it.

      I feel sorry for people like you who rely on a single human-created book as a guide for your life (and supposed afterlife).

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