Like many, the moment was gasp-inducing: when I read Christopher Hitchens scathing take on Mother Theresa, I was both appalled and amused. And ultimately, won over.
If there was a sacred cow, Hitch wanted to take it apart, both to show you there was no need to hold it sacred, and to point out that cows are tasty, if cooked properly.
He had, as they say, a way with words. His sentences were things to admire, full of pithy phrasing, brilliant word choices, dripping acid on his subjects as they made their acerbic points. He was the last of a breed, the unapologetic, slightly sozzled old school reporter (classic Fleet Street, as they say over there) who took nothing for granted and so no need for the niceties.
Hitch was a good example of how Vanity Fair is a different thing under Graydon Carter, less the upscale version of People that it devolved to under Tina Brown, harder edged, more sarcastic, a latter day Spy, an American Punch, still obsessed with celebrity and names, darling, names... but less sentimental, more old school. There was Dominick Dunne to name drop incessantly, and Hitchens, to remind you that assumed greatness is a mistake.
I remember when he called the Queen Mother an old drunk, and those terrible things he said about Jackie Onassis (not as bad as Gore Vidal, but still). And never mind those terrible things he said about churches and religion. Is nothing sacred? Of course not.
They don't make them like Hitchens anymore, partly because we know better: when he wrote 5,000 words defending his drinking, I felt, for once, not that he'd gone too far, but that his cantankerousness was simply the camouflage of an old man set in his ways. He was one of the "getting sober is for quitters" school, of a piece with his general defiance... but at some point, some choices aren't giving in or giving up, they're just sensible, practical approaches to living healthier. Hitchens gave up nothing, but he was slowed, finally, by cancer that robbed him, literally, of his voice, but not his words. And he was not about to go gentle in to the good night.
The word is that Christopher Hitchens died overnight, at age 62, having completed his last piece which will appear in next month's Vanity Fair. It will, of course, be a must read. But then, they all were. All I wanted was for him to live longer.