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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - British-born journalist and atheist intellectual Christopher Hitchens, who made the United States his home and backed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, died on Thursday at the age of 62.
Hitchens died in Houston of pneumonia, a complication of cancer of the esophagus, Vanity Fair magazine said.
"Christopher Hitchens - the incomparable critic, masterful rhetorician, fiery wit, and fearless bon vivant - died today at the age of 62," Vanity Fair said.
A heavy smoker and drinker, Hitchens cut short a book tour for his memoir "Hitch 22" last year to undergo chemotherapy after being diagnosed with cancer.
As a journalist, war correspondent and literary critic, Hitchens carved out a reputation for barbed repartee, scathing critiques of public figures and a fierce intelligence.
In his 2007 book "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything," Hitchens took on major religions with his trenchant atheism. He argued that religion was the source of all tyranny and that many of the world's evils have been done in the name of religion.
The son of a British naval officer, Hitchens studied at Oxford University and worked as literary critic for the New Statesman magazine in London before moving to New York to work as a journalist in 1981. He settled in Washington the following year, initially as correspondent for the left-wing magazine The Nation. He retained his British citizenship when he became an American citizen in 2007.
Hitchens was not one to mince words. In his book on Bill Clinton "No one left to lie to", he called the former U.S. president a "rapist" and a "con man." He once referred to Mother Teresa of Calcutta as a "fanatical Albanian dwarf."
The author of 25 books - including works on Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine and George Orwell - and countless articles and columns, Hitchens never lost his biting humor.
"I'm a member of a cancer elite. I rather look down on people with lesser cancers," Hitchens said in an interview with CBS "60 Minutes" aired on March 6, 2011.
In a 2010 interview with Reuters, Hitchens dismissed criticism that he moved from left to right and helped former U.S. President George W. Bush sell the 2003 war with Iraq to the American public with what turned out to be bad intelligence about weapons of mass destruction.
"Saddam was an enemy of the civilized world and he should have been taken out a long time before," Hitchens said of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. "I have no regrets about that at all."
The 2001 attacks on the United States by Islamic fundamentalists in hijacked passenger planes made Hitchens ever more critical of the role of religion in the world, and led him to appreciate the merits of American democracy.
"I am absolutely convinced that the main source of hatred in the world is religion, and organized religion," he wrote.
Hitchens is survived by his wife, Carol Blue; their daughter, Antonia; and his children from a previous marriage, Alexander and Sophia, Vanity Fair said.
In his last essay on www.vanityfair.com, dated "January 2012," Hitchens said his illness made him question the saying attributed to German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche that "Whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger."
A painkiller injection just before typing the article titled "Trial of the Will," Hitchens wrote, caused "numbness in the extremities, filling me with the not irrational fear that I shall lose the ability to write. Without that ability, I feel sure in advance, my 'will to live' would be hugely attenuated."
Editing by Mohammad Zargham