This is a hard obituary to write. Unlike with previous obits I’ve written, this one is for someone with whom I was, at least vaguely, acquainted. I had an infrequent email relationship with Roger Ebert; one that mostly consisted of my sending him links to things that, more often than not, he’d tweet or send out on Facebook. I even solicited his advice on what restaurants to go to while visiting Chicago last year, advice he was happy to provide.
Roger Ebert has died of cancer at the age of 70. This was a return of cancer which he, and everyone else, had hoped was long gone. Instead it returned with an apparent vengeance, ending his life only two days after he’d posted up a very cheerful, upbeat article that seemed ironically optimistic about the future.
Though I’d only recently started writing to him, I’d been aware of Roger Ebert since I was a child. At the Movies, under its various titles, was something my mother always seemed happy for me to watch. Seeing him and Gene Siskel sparring with each other was a fascinating exercise, and I loved the way that they constantly seemed to be pushing directors to make better films than they were.
It was through Roger Ebert that I’ve discovered directors like Lang, Murnau, Herzog, Wilder, and others. It was through him that I experienced films I’d never heard of before, like Ace in the Hole, M and Sunrise. His audio commentary on Citizen Kane remains one of the best commentaries I’ve ever heard, and his collections of writings, most notably a memorably-titled collection of reviews of bad films, were always incredibly good reading for me.
Ebert’s death leaves a real hole in the film criticism business, and it’s worth noting that, from now until my own death, anytime someone says the words “film critic”, Roger Ebert will be the first image that comes to mind.