Hitchens was outspoken and controversial, in his time a critic of Roman Catholic church, the Vietnam war and organised religion in general.

Last night, Vanity Fair, for which Hitchens had written since 1992, marked his death with a memorial article.

Tributes have flooded in for the respected, if divisive, journalist.

Salman Rushdie, whom Hitchens defended stoutly at the time of the furore over the Satanic Verses, tweeted: “Goodbye, my beloved friend. A great voice falls silent. A great heart stops. Christopher Hitchens, April 13, 1949-December 15, 2011.”

Author Ian McEwan said: “Right at the very end when he was feeble when his cancer overwhelmed him, he insisted on a desk by his window. There he was, a man with only a few days to live, turning out 3,000 words to meet a deadline.”

Novelist Tony Parsons tweeted: “RIP Christopher Hitchens, gone far too soon at 62.”

Former Sun editor David Yelland tweeted: “He was so angry and so often wrong (I thought) but my lord how I’ll miss Christopher Hitchens one of the language’s great journalists.”

Hitchens began his career writing for leftwing magazine the New Statesman and went on to write columns for Slate.com and Vanity Fair.

He confused and confounded many of his supporters on the left, however, for his outspoken support for the Iraq war and for president George W Bush.

Hitchens’s deep disdain for religion fuelled his notoriety, especially in the U.S. In his 2007 publication God is Not Great, he argued that religion is “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry”. The book sold more than 500,000 copies.

After being diagnosed with cancer in June 2010, Hitchens documented his illness in Vanity Fair.

Talking to the BBC In November this year, he said of his impending death: “It does concentrate the mind, of course, to realise that your life is more rationed than you thought it was.”

For those unfamiliar with Hitchens’ sledgehammer views, here are some memorable quotes.

“The Bible may, indeed does, contain a warrant for trafficking in humans, for ethnic cleansing, for slavery, for bride-price, and for indiscriminate massacre, but we are not bound by any of it because it was put together by crude, uncultured human mammals.”

“How is the United States at once the most conservative and commercial AND the most revolutionary society on Earth?”

“[Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction.”

“The four most over-rated things in life are champagne, lobster, anal sex and picnics.”

And here are some of Hitchens’ finest moments on video.





Picture: Getty