Hitchens was born in Portsmouth, England in 1949, and after graduating from Oxford in 1970 he began working as a journalist in Britain, the BBC said. He later moved to the United States and became contributing editor to Vanity Fair in 1992.
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In announcing his death on their website, Vanity Fair called Hitchens an "incomparable critic, masterful rhetorician, fiery wit, and fearless bon vivant."
Graydon Carter, Vanity Fair editor, said in a tribute to Hitchens:
He was a man of insatiable appetites — for cigarettes, for scotch, for company, for great writing, and, above all, for conversation. That he had an output to equal what he took in was the miracle in the man. You’d be hard-pressed to find a writer who could match the volume of exquisitely crafted columns, essays, articles, and books he produced over the past four decades.
Reuters, in their obituary of Hitchens, described him as an "atheist intellectual":
In his 2007 book "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything," Hitchens took on major religions with his trenchant atheism. He argued that religion was the source of all tyranny and that many of the world's evils have been done in the name of religion.
Salman Rushdie is one of many who paid tribute to Hitchens on Twitter.
"Goodbye, my beloved friend. A great voice falls silent. A great heart stops. Christopher Hitchens, April 13, 1949-December 15, 2011," Rushdie wrote.
"RIP Christopher Hitchens — greatest literary provocateur of my lifetime. Huge talent, huge loss," CNN's Piers Morgan tweeted.
Hitchens is survived by his wife, Carol Blue, their daughter, Antonia, and Alexander and Sophia, his children from a previous marriage.
In what is thought to be his last column for Vanity Fair, he takes on Friedrich Nietzsche and the maxim: "“Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”
Hitchens wrote in the June 2011 issue of Vanity Fair: "My chief consolation in this year of living dyingly has been the presence of friends."
"May his 62 years of living, well, so livingly console the many of us who will miss him dearly," the magazine said.
Videos of Christopher Hitchens: