60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft profiled author Christopher Hitchens in March 2011. Hitch, as he's called, was combating esophageal cancer, but was as outspoken and opinionated as ever. Below, Steve's remembrances of his conversations with Hitch, who died yesterday at age 62.
When I first sat down with Christopher Hitchens a little more than a year ago, he was bald and nauseous, his body wracked not just by the cancer, but by the sacks full of poisons he was taking to treat it.
We both knew how it was going to end. The only question was when. He was hoping for a few more years to see his children into adulthood. He only got one.
That first interview lasted four and a half hours, and I don't think I was able to ask more than 15 questions. Let's say he was in an expansive mood, well lubricated with Dr. (Johnny) Walker's amber restorative at his side, and regular cigarette breaks whenever we needed to change tapes. It was less an interview than series of long monologues, touching on everything from Augustine and Plato, to body waxing and water boarding. It was enthralling and exhausting.
When I came back for a much shorter session five months later, Hitch had given up both the cigarettes and the scotch, not because he was on some sort of a much-belated health kick, but because his new treatment regimen made the taste of both unbearable. That's how hard he fought the inevitable, pursuing the most promising experimental treatments with the knowledge that they probably wouldn't work for him, but might help advance the science of fighting cancer.
That struggle with his own mortality was the subject of much of Hitchens' writing this past year, and he was in top form until the very end.
I certainly didn't agree with all of his opinions. No one could. But I admired his mind and his use of the English language. I always learned something when I read Hitchens. He always demanded attention and even his most outrageous arguments were always well reasoned.
The idea that I will never be able read those opinions on whatever events lie ahead, big and small, saddens me. The only consolation is volumes of writing that Hitch left behind: nearly thirty books and too many essays and articles to count. I'm sure I will never catch up.