Christopher Hitchens, the author, essayist and polemicist who waged verbal and occasional physical battle on behalf of causes on the left and right, has died after a long battle with cancer at the age of 62.

A prolific and public intellectual who enjoyed his drink – enough to “to kill or stun the average mule” – and cigarettes, he announced in June 2010 that he was being treated for cancer of the oesophagus and cancelled a tour for his memoir Hitch-22.

Hitchens, a frequent television commentator and a contributor to Vanity Fair, Slate and other publications, became a popular author in 2007 thanks to God Is Not Great, a manifesto for atheists that defied a recent trend of religious works.