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Roger Ebert: Gone, but never to be forgotten.

thumb_Roger_Ebert_1942_2013[1]Reading Roger Ebert’s last blog entry two days ago, I was reminded of Robert Altman. He accepted his Lifetime Achievement Oscar in March of 2006, joked about how his complete heart transplant would give him decades more life, and was generally the most lively man in the room. And he was dead 8 months later. I had wondered in the past, with Roger Ebert’s health, how many more years he would continue to bless us. I was looking forward to the launch of the new Ebert Digital and everything it would bring. I didn’t honestly think he was about to die. I never dreamed he would be dead in only two days.

This is a tremendous loss. And that is the fact of it. Ebert was a national treasure, and a guiding light. I will miss his writing terribly. From roughly 2003-2011, I read all his reviews faithfully. I remember the time in 2006, when his health took a bad turn and the reviews just stopped cold. I had been looking forward to his review of Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly; it never happened. And I felt almost as if movies would cease to come out entirely if Roger Ebert were not there to review them. Well, slowly he turned the reins of regular reviewing over to other people, and I gradually discovered other review outlets. But I still checked back at his website and blog to see what he had to say. He was a presence in my life, as he was for many fans. A few times, something I wrote even made it into the Answer Man column. And here and there, he’d respond to one of my comments on his blog. There was one post I can’t find now, where I brought up an old Sesame Street clip in which Ebert said there could be such a thing as a “thumbs sideways” movie, and Gene Siskel argued against it. Replied Roger, “Gene was obviously wrong.”

One other moment occurs to me now. Again, I cannot find the entry. But a brief time after Ebert’s brush with death, he was speaking about something philosophical. I figured he had come to the particular topic as a result of contemplating his own mortality; at times when I contemplated my own mortality, I came to basically identical topics. My advice had been, “Remember that you are alive now.” And he said something like, “I’ll try to remember that.” He seemed to be very accepting of his own mortality, so maybe he was just being polite. I will never know.

Movies will continue to come out, even without an Ebert to mark their passing. Maybe one day, another critic will even rise to his level of celebrity. But today is not that day, and today we mourn an incalculable loss. We’ll never forget you, Roger Ebert.

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