Hitchens first gained notice in the early 1970s in London as a writer for "The New Statesman," a left-wing magazine. Tragedy struck in 1973, after his parents separated and his mother overdosed on sleeping pills in an apparent suicide pact with her lover.
He moved to New York and settled in Washington, writing for the liberal weekly The Nation. But he broke with the left in 1989, when Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against author Salman Rushdie, claiming his novel "The Satanic Verses" defamed Islam. In what would be a recurring theme in his work, Hitchens argued that liberals did not see radical Islam as a threat.
By the late 1990s, Hitchens had become omnipresent on cable-news shows dispensing incendiary opinions about the Clintons. His take on the 42nd president would be neatly summarized in the title of his fifth book, "No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton."
His distaste of all things Clinton led to an infamous split with writer Sidney Blumenthal, a friend who went to work in the Clinton White House. Hitchens signed an affidavit for House investigators claiming that over a lunch, Blumenthal tried to smear White House intern Monica Lewinsky as a Clinton stalker -- this after Blumenthal testified he did no such thing.
Hitchens denounced the Sept. 11 attacks as "fascism with an Islamic face" -- a forerunner of the phrase "Islamo-fascism," embraced by many on the right today. He then infuriated liberals by quitting The Nation with a scorched-Earth flourish, saying it had become "the echo chamber of those who truly believe that [Attorney General] John Ashcroft is a greater menace than Osama bin Laden."
He cemented his political metamorphosis by backing the 2003 invasion of Iraq, a position he held even as support for the war among Americans dwindled.
"A much-wanted war criminal was put on public trial," Hitchens wrote on Slate on the fifth anniversary of the invasion. "The Kurdish and Shiite majority was rescued from the ever-present threat of a renewed genocide. A huge, hideous military and party apparatus, directed at internal repression and external aggression was ... dismantled."
For all the anger he incurred, Hitchens had a large following. He had at least three independent fan sites on the Internet, including dailyhitchens.com and hitchenszone.com.
He was married twice, had three children and became an American citizen in 2007. He also was a fierce smoker and his fondness for drink was legendary -- "one of the few remaining practitioners of the five-hour, two-bottle lunch," is how The Guardian once put it.
There was much speculation on whether Hitchens was an alcoholic, but he always boasted he never missed a deadline. Friends marveled at how he could pen a flawless, 1,000-word article in breakneck time even after downing drink after drink. So it was big news when Hitchens revealed that his cancer treatments had forced him to finally give up alcohol.
Hitchens' received his cancer diagnosis -- stage 4 esophageal cancer -- in June 2010 as he was embarking on a national tour promoting his memoir, "Hitch-22."