Carol Blue discusses Christopher Hitchens' Mortality

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Carol Blue and Christopher Hitchens, in a photo taken by Annie Leibowitz in 1990

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First aired on Q (20/09/12)


Christopher Hitchens was a cultural force. The author and journalist wrote about anything -- except sports -- for Vanity Fair and didn't shy away from criticizing prominent public figures like Bill Clinton or addressing hot-button issues like foreign policy and religion. But when he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in the summer of 2010, his illness became yet another poignant theme in his work. His writing about his cancer for Vanity Fair is now a book titled Mortality. Hitchen's wife, Carol Blue, penned the afterword to Mortality. She stood by his side through the diagnosis, through his illness, through his insistence to keep on working and through the pneumonia that would eventually take his life on December 15, 2011.

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Even though "Hitch," as he was known by many, had an aggressive form of cancer, he and Blue believed he would survive. When he entered the hospital for the final time, he continued to work, requesting deadline extensions from editors and discussing the day's news with his friends and family. "The very end was quite a shock," Blue told Q host Jian Ghomeshi in a recent interview. "It was almost like...getting a call and being told your husband was killed in a car crash or something."

Part of the reason Blue and others were so convinced Hitchens would make it was because he was such a vibrant, dynamic presence, even in his illness. After the diagnosis, "he was very energetic, very rational, very stoic," Blue recalled. "He was exemplary  He was never self-pitying. He never complained. He never raged." He refused to let his disease define him. While he'd talk about it and write about it when requested, "he was bored by the subject of cancer." He preferred to focus on the work that interested him and kept up his public appearances throughout his treatments. In fact, he appeared on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show the very day he learned he was ill and was his usual energetic self. "He was a bit demoralized," Blue said, "and you can't tell at all in the performance."

In fact, the only time Hitchens felt truly defeated was during a period of six weeks, towards the end of his illness, when he lost his voice. "The register would rise and it became, ultimately, a very soft squeak, and that was very hard to watch. He could always command any dinner-table conversation," Blue said. This became impossible with his new voice. But, as Hitchens was wont to do, he turned it into a powerful Vanity Fair piece "about the linkage between spoken voice and the written voice" (this essay is in Mortality) and the day after he filed this essay, his voice came back. "For once, timing was working for him," Blue said.

It's been almost a year since Hitchens passed and Blue struggles with this loss each day. The fact that he has continued to have a prominent place in the public consciousness in the year since his death is a comfort, she acknowledges, and while being the spokesperson for her husband's book wasn't originally her idea, she's happy to do her part. "I think it's important to try and carry a little flicker of that enormous affirming flame that he took around the world," she said. And while it helps keep his work and voice alive, it's not a replacement for the man himself -- someone Blue believes was "the apex of what the human species kicks up."

"I just wish he was here to comment on all aspects of all current scenes," she said. "Don't you?"






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