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ROGER EBERT (1942 – 2013)

By Phil Hall | April 4, 2013

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.

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  1. Don R. Lewis says:

    Great stuff, KJ and Phil. I just posted the following to the Indiewire piece that they’re running tomorrow, thought I’d share here too:

    I grew up in Orland, California which is basically an agricultural wasteland in Northern/Central California. I LOVED movies but the theater in our town only played movies in Spanish, cartoons on weekend mornings and the occasional blockbuster but only for 3-4 days. Usually the print was so well-traveled it either broke or burned at some point in the screening. We also only had 3 TV channels at that time and channel 9 was one of them. As a kid who loved movies my only real connection to seeing what was new and exciting in film were a few magazines and Siskel and Ebert on Channel 9. These two guys made me realize that movies were indeed something as awesome, important and worth talking about as I felt they were, even at 8 years old. I was a voracious movie watcher on those 3 basic channels and when I went to someones house with cable, I was an immovable object in front of the TV.

    As a loudmouth little kid I took it upon myself to argue for films I loved with adults who didn’t “get it” and that’s something I learned from Siskel and Ebert. It’s something I still do today whenever I can in life or in print. I won’t lie; as a fellow chubby person, I always liked Roger Ebert more than Gene Siskel. I not only related to his portliness, I also always sensed he loved films for the fun of them and how they hit you in the, well, gut. When he hated something, it seemed personal and the same could be said for when he loved something. He never, ever got cynical or seemed bored in his work and that’s something few can ever say.

    When we finally moved out of Orland to a city with TWO (!) movie theaters, I finally felt like Roger Ebert and I could “talk” about the same things, at least in my mind. I later read all his books and tried to model myself after him, at least in terms of passion for film, as I started to write criticism. When I finally came face to face with him at the Sundance Film Festival several years back, I froze. How could I even begin to tell this guy how much his work had meant to me? I wouldn’t even BE at Sundance let alone writing for a major website if he and Mr. Siskel’s television show hadn’t inspired me. While obviously I was more enamored with writers, directors and celebrities, Roger Ebert was the guy who started it all for me and seeing him in person brought a flood of emotion

    Every year I came back to Sundance, Mr. Ebert was always in the back, left corner of the Eccles Theater and every year I swore I’d say something to him and I never did. I could never rev myself up enough or feel like I’d say anything worthy of a response. But even though I didn’t know him, I kinda know Mr. Ebery would have been kind and gracious to yet another slobbering film nerd he helped create. He will be missed but like the films he was so passionate about, he will live on forever in his writing.

  2. KJ Doughton says:

    In 1980, I was a fledgling 15-year old writer for my high school newspaper. I sent Ebert a copy of the paper along with a request that he critique my reviews. Much to my delight, he replied with a personal letter and in-depth analysis of my “work.” To spend that kind of time and effort on some random punk kid reflected his thoughtfulness as a human being. RIP.

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