What He Said: A Tribute to Roger Ebert

I came home Thursday from a particularly long day at work. After unloading the baby from her carseat, I changed, washed my hands, and sat on the floor with her. She was playing on her playmat and I checked my email and quickly scanned Facebook when I saw someone had posted, R.I.P. Roger Ebert.

My heart sank. Quickly, I went to Twitter. Only yesterday the news had been that his cancer had returned, could he really be—

He was.

Being with the baby helped stop me from crying, but it was a near-miss. I know I’m not the only one writing something about him in the days after the news hit, but I need to say something.

I didn’t realize how much Mr. Ebert meant to me until a few years ago. He’d written a memoir and news had hit that he’d gotten his voice back via a new computer program. He was on Oprah and we got to hear his voice for the first time in a while. I began crying because it was then that I realized how much Roger Ebert had impacted my life. I’m still discovering it to this day.

I come from a lower-middle class, blue collar family. My mother loves movies and our talks about movies were good, though basic, mostly pertaining to how good the plot was, the scenes that surprised us (or didn’t), and maybe a talk about a specific actor. Don’t get me wrong, it was more than “I liked it/It sucked”, but…different than what I saw on TV. It was watching Siskel & Ebert as a boy, and then as a teenager, where I began to learn even more about movies and ways to talk about them. They also taught me the art of argument. I saw these two men who were clearly friends get into heated discussions about whatever movie they were reviewing but remain friends. It also opened a dialogue up about movies that I didn’t normally get. Their reviews of Woody Allen movies, of movies that were smaller or more serious than the typical fair I watched, made me interested in more. As I became older, I found it was Ebert’s views I most typically agreed with.

In the early-1990s, the local newspaper began running Roger Ebert’s reviews and I read them weekly. Of course, I didn’t always agree, just like the TV show (it’s funny how almost every remembrance of Ebert states that the person didn’t always agree with him…can it be avoided when talking about a critic?) but I found that when I agreed, I did so whole-heartedly.

When Gene Siskel died in 1998/1999, the news came as a shock and I was saddened, but I admitted to myself that Ebert was my favorite of the two. Still, I missed the banter. Siskel’s TV replacement, Richard Roeper, never really meshed for me. He was too…slick? Young? I don’t know. Too something.

(Roger Ebert would have the word for that, I think as I type.)

When the news hit about Ebert’s own tongue cancer, and then how it had spread to his jaw, I was devastated for him, and for us. He was a person who loved to talk, you could sense that on his show and you saw that every time he gave an interview. I get the feeling that he was a walking encyclopedia who would’ve been great to talk to at any given time. The world needed a voice like his.

But he hadn’t been silenced, oh no. He began writing even more. Already a really good writer, in recent years, Mr. Ebert became a great writer. I’m sure he’d argue that. Of course he would, he seemed to love to argue. But I feel that’s true. He was among the the first people I followed when I joined Twitter. His reviews got even better. And his essays…spectacular. He wrote about things he felt strongly about, from movies and technology in movies to politics to why videogames can never be art. He was controversial and seemed tireless.

His wife, Chaz, wrote Friday that Mr. Ebert died, “No struggle, no pain, just a quiet, dignified transition.”

Roger Ebert taught me a lot in my formative years, and I never realized it until recently. He also taught me a lot as an adult, and for that I am grateful.

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About Bill Gauthier

Bill Gauthier is a writer. His books include the collection CATALYSTS (2007), ALICE ON THE SHELF (2011), and SHADOWED (2011).

Posted on April 7, 2013, in Life, Memoir, Movies, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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