Word for word, I would wager that I have read more Roger Ebert than any other writer in my entire life. I’ve been reading Ebert’s reviews for as long I can remember. I have favorites that I re-read, and frequently hunt through his archives for recommendations, insights, or laughs. He has taught me, like millions of others, how to watch and love and think about film.
Two days ago, Roger told his fans on his blog that he would be taking a leave of presence from writing his reviews. That he will focus on work that he actually wants to write about, and will spend more time developing his online resources, and collaborating on the film adaptation of his life that Martin Scorcese and Steve Zallian are making.
Just two days ago, Roger wrote: “I may write about what it’s like to cope with health challenges and the limitations they can force upon you. It really stinks that the cancer has returned and that I have spent too many days in the hospital. So on bad days I may write about the vulnerability that accompanies illness. On good days, I may wax ecstatic about a movie so good it transports me beyond illness.”
Today, he died. He was 70.
I’ve never met Roger Ebert but he has meant much to me, and to the millions of fans he has cultivated in his 50 years or so reviewing films. He’s truly an American treasure, and his loss is felt immensely at Third Ten Million Years, and across the world.
There will be countless thousands of remembrances of Roger Ebert upon this news of his death. Those who are not fans are likely to be surprised by the depth of devotion of his admirers. His fans adore him. He was a welcoming writer, that way. He welcomed criticism and was happy to be proven wrong by his readers. As a young man his reviews taught me not just about film but about being a thoughtful and kind adult American–a constant theme of his writing.
This may seem dramatic, but we all form attachments to those we admire. When you read someone’s criticism for so many years, follow their work with such closeness as so many of us did, you get to know how a person thinks about the world. Ebert was more than happy to cultivate that interaction in his readers. I wrote in the past that Roger Ebert was one of the most thoughtful writers discovered by the internet. His reviews of course pre-date by decades the internet. But his blog essays, outreach to fans, and kindhearted spirit allowed us all get to know him.