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.