On Friday, which would have been Christopher Hitchens’s 62nd birthday, the American interviewer Charlie Rose discussed the man with several of his friends, including Salman Rushdie, James Fenton, and of course Martin Amis. The video hasn’t yet been put up, but I’ll link to it when it is.
In the meantime, here’s a two-minute “memorial” that Rose broadcast the day after Hitchens died last December 15. It’s the interview when Hitch was asked whether he would still have smoked and boozed had he known what the consequences would be.
Rose: If you had known that there was a possibility of getting cancer, you would have never smoked—you would have never smoked a cigarette—you would never drank, or consumed the amount of liquor you consumed?
Hitchens: No, I think all the time I’ve felt that life is a wager, and that I was probably getting more out of leading a bohemian existence, as a writer, than I would have if I didn’t. So, writing is what is important to me, and anything that helps me do that—or enhances or prolongs and deepens and sometimes intensifies argument and conversation — is worth it to me, for sure. So I was knowingly taking a risk, though I wouldn’t recommend it to others.
On that inteview he added (not shown in the video) that it was “impossible for me to imagine having my life without going to those parties, without having those late nights, without that second bottle.”
His life was tragically short, but I’ll wager that he packed more into that existence that any other writer who was given eight decades. And I remember this when I’m reproved by readers, as I sometimes am, for displaying the “unhealthy” foods I consume on my travels. I’d ask those people why they’re not consuming a diet consisting solely of vegetables and nuts, and starving themselves—all of which enhance longevity. (BTW, I don’t eat like that all the time!)
Past a certain age, the content of a life is at least as important as its duration, and all of us, save perhaps the exercise and vegetable mavens, are doing things that we know, whether or not we repress that knowledge, will shorten our lives. The important thing is this: when, like Hitchens, you look back on your life from your deathbed, will you think that it was a good run? Will you really regret not having published more scientific papers? Or will you regret having not taken more risks?
Excuse the lachrymosity; I miss the man this morning.