"So on this day of reflection I say again,
thank you for going on this journey with me. I'll see you at the movies."
I don't have a big story about how I met Roger Ebert. I never spoke to him, never corresponded with him, but, like I'm sure millions of others did, I felt a familiarity through his words. Ebert was a critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, a post he began in 1967, and one he would keep until his death. In 1975 he started co-hosting a show called, 'Sneak Previews', by Chicago public broadcasting, but it wasn't until three-years later when rival critic, Gene Siskel joined the program when Ebert's popularity began taking shape.
Soon the two would be known for their crisp banter and their opposable digits, like Roman emperors, their raised thumbs becoming a signal for success or failure onscreen. Ironically, Ebert actually abhorred any rating system (one of the reasons why I don't use one on Cinema High), but the talking heads insisted on something so the thumbs remained, as did the four-star system for the Times, and later RogerEbert.com. (Incredible avatar, by the way.)
After Siskel passed away, the show as they say went on, but it wasn't nearly the same. Through it all, Ebert continued to write, a renewed passion seem to grow with the explosive personality of the internet, and later social media.
In 2002, Ebert was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The disease caused him to undergo a number of surgeries, which altered his voice; a later procedure brought about the loss of a part of his jaw, robbing him the ability to speak for the rest of his life. Ebert shouldn't (and won't) be remembered for what was taken from him. Rather, it only served to fuel his enthusiasm for movies. For his entire professional life, Ebert wrote at least 200 film reviews each calendar year. In 2012, he assessed 302, a personal best. Incredible.
Ebert was a fervent friend, and never shied away from helping out up-and-coming pundits; a rarity in his field, and in life in general, really. He briefly dated Oprah Winfrey and was the one who insisted to the mogul to take her show into syndication. On top of his yearly collections of film reviews, he has written 15 books on various cinematic subjects, and was also the scribe on 1970's BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, which is a trip. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and won a Pulitzer for criticism. He was respected by Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, among countless others. He ran his own film festival, Ebertfest. What an amazing life.
Even though he lost the ability to speak, we've nonetheless lost a great voice. Ebert was the (undisputed) most famous film critic that ever lived. Just think about that for a second. On April 2, two-days before his death, Ebert wrote what would be his final piece. He entitled it, 'A Leave of Presence', and it's beautiful, filled with memories of his past and proposed plans for his future. It's difficult not to feel sad reading his last thoughts. Perhaps he knew that the end was near. The world of film and its criticism won't be the same, that's for sure.