I was scrolling through Facebook on the afternoon of April 4 when I spotted a headline in my news feed with contained words that did not belong together: “Roger Ebert Dead.”
“Oh, God, I hope this is another Internet hoax,” I said to myself. And, for a moment, I didn’t want to believe what I saw.
I mean, really, Roger Ebert never lost any fight. Whether he was engaging in a duel of wits with Gene Siskel, or maintaining his dignity when Howard Stern plopped a lap dancer on his knees, or navigating the raucous world of online journalism, or moving beyond the cancer that took away his distinctive speaking voice, Ebert was up to any challenge.
As recently as earlier this week, Ebert told his audience about the recurrence of his cancer, but he framed this challenge as something of a slight interruption to his always-busy schedule. Indeed, he explained he was taking a “leave of presence,” and it was easy to assume that the indefatigable Ebert would be back again.
Roger Ebert is no longer with us – but, then again, he will always be with us. He brought film criticism to a new level of journalistic excellence – after all, he was the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize. And he brought a greater appreciation of film history and film exhibition to two generations of audiences through his television programs, books, blogs and the influential Ebertfest. In his deft use of the Internet, he personally connected with the countless number of movie lovers who came to respect his and cherish his personality.
I never met Ebert, but we briefly crossed paths online. I had mentioned Ebert’s lap dance in a Bootleg Files column on “The Howard Stern Show,” and Ebert happily Tweeted that column along with a jolly mention of how much enjoyed being on Stern’s show. I can say that one of the biggest thrills I’ve had as a writer was discovering that Roger Ebert shared my work with his Twitter audience.
“Roger Ebert Dead”? No, that headline is wrong. It should have read: “Roger Ebert Lives Forever.” Because anyone who loves movies, reads and writes about this subject and exhibits films for audiences is carrying on his extraordinary mission. Roger Ebert had a passion for art, science and joy of motion pictures, and his spirit will remain strong as long as that passion stays with us.