Atheist author and journalist Christopher Hitchens died last night, aged 62, at a hospital in Texas after suffering from pneumonia brought on by oesophageal cancer.

In 2009, Hitchens, a vocal supporter of gay rights, revealed in his memoirs he had gay liaisons at Oxford with men who later became Tory politicians.

Hitchens, who studied at Oxford in the 1960s, wrote in his memoirs, Hitch-22, that although he liked women, he occasionally had “relapses” with future members of Margaret Thatcher’s government.

He wrote: “Every now and then, even though I was by then fixed on the pursuit of young women, a mild and mildly enjoyable relapse would occur and I suppose that I can ‘claim’ this … of two young men who later became members of Margaret Thatcher’s government.

“For this very reason I can’t really give any more names.”

Hitchens was a vocal critic of the Catholic Church. In a debate on the BBC in 2009 in which he and Stephen Fry argued the Church was not a force for good, he said: “The church can apologise, too, for condemning my friend Stephen Fry, for his nature.

“For saying he couldn’t be a member of your church even if he wanted to. Don’t condemn him for what he does, condemn him for what he is!

“This is obscene, disgraceful and inhumane, and it comes from hysterical, sinister virgins who have already betrayed their charge of children.”

Stephen Fry wrote on Twitter: “Goodbye, Christopher Hitchens. You were envied, feared, adored, reviled and loved. Never ignored. Never bested. A great and marvellous man.”

Richard Dawkins said he was the “finest orator of our time”, a “valiant fighter against all tyrants including God”.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, once an intern for Hitchens, said: “Christopher Hitchens was everything a great essayist should be: infuriating, brilliant, highly provocative and yet intensely serious.”

US pastor Rick Warren, who has compared gay marriage to incest in the past but denied being homophobic, drew condemnation for tweeting: “My friend Christopher Hitchens has died. I loved & prayed for him constantly & grieve his loss. He knows the Truth now.”

Some on the micro-blogging site have described Warren’s reaction as “sick”, “disrespectful” and “gross”. One said, “You couldn’t resist, could you?”.

One of Warren’s supports thanked him for “speaking kindly” of Hitchens, when “it would be so easy to do otherwise”.