The article about Roger Ebert repeated here was first published in 2010. It came to mind when I was reading through old emails exchanged with an acquaintance who was facing a serious life challenge. None of us know how we will respond when facing the final threat to survival. Ebert was only 70 years old when he died in 2013. Despite years of serious illness, he was able to keep his life meaningful until the end.
People with conspicuous courage or ability are admired as heroes for deeds and qualities. In these days of super-rich athletes and undistinguished celebrities famous mostly for their fame, the word is applied too readily. Yet, hero well describes the rare one who personifies extraordinariness.
To me, such a man is Roger Ebert. I’ve enjoyed reading more of his words than of any other writer. (To be accurate, I read more of mine but enjoy more of his.) Although available in newspapers, books and by the Internet, he’s known to many as a television film critic. With Gene Siskel, he pioneered Sneak Previews, America’s first regular TV show about the movies. It premiered nationally with PBS in 1977 and continued there until shifted to commercial syndication. Despite Siskel’s death in 1999, Ebert continued regularly until ill health forced his departure from TV in 2006.
Ebert is much more than a movie critic. He is an essayist and social commentator who happens also to be a reliable arbiter of film arts. He is credited with numerous books, many that are collections of selected writings, but his work is freely accessible online. He interacts with readers at rogerebert.com, which presents reviews, essays and his Movie-Answer-Man feature, and at Roger Ebert’s Journal, where he writes about any topic. (No longer available in 2022.)
Whatever flows from Ebert is about love and joy, people and passion, his land and ours, the real world and those fantastical. His journalistic expertise is unquestioned. For example, read The London Perambulator, a discourse on an imaginary walk through parts of London. Yet it is more. Much more.
Ebert reminisces and muses about people and places, youth, innocence, literature, traditions and topography, mortality and immortality. After reading this piece, I understood why artist Verrocchio reacted as he did upon examining the angel painted on the Baptism of Christ by pupil Leonardo da Vinci. Knowing himself unable to match that work of genius, the older man never painted again. Ebert’s London Perambulator transcends typical travel journalism.
Those who follow the great writer’s career will know Ebert has been challenged to an extreme by health issues. Recurring cancer is gone but he lost the ability to eat, drink and speak. He’s not often seen in public but he’s not homebound either. And, his words flow with more power, grace and beauty than before.
Esquire Magazine presents Roger Ebert: The Essential Man. Writer Chris Jones backgrounds Ebert’s present condition and celebrates the man’s spirit and determination to keep life meaningful. Jones particularly admires Roger Ebert’s Journal, telling of how :
It has become his life’s work, building and maintaining this massive monument to written debate — argument is encouraged, so long as it’s civil — and he spends several hours each night reclined in his chair, tending to his online oasis by lamplight. Out there, his voice is still his voice — not a reasonable facsimile of it, but his.
As I wrote at the top, hero is a word too frequently used. But, if it is one who inspires others and exhibits the finest human qualities, Roger Ebert is a hero.