Dying in increments, okay with that…

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, 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.

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5 replies »

  1. One of the joys of Ebert's Journal is the comments section. His must be among the top, both in quality and number of participants. Perhaps, the quality of contributions keeps mindless knee-jerk responders at a distance. Even the most insensitive realize how out of place a dumb comment would be.

    The longest thread in Ebert's Journal was:

    Contributors talked themselves out after 2,648 entries. However, then came:

    Ebert reopened the Evolution/Creation debate with additional remarks and that ran up 1,275 comments.

    I don't withdraw my reference to high quality, but Ebert admits, “The problem with the debate on the Longest Thread was that the I.D. side was polluted by factoids, fallacies and hyperbole, drowning out those who attempted to engage in rational argument.”

    That's not too surprising given the emotional nonsense that drives one side of this debate but I still think Ebert's site produced the single best exchange that I've come across about evolution and creation.

    One other thing, if the Esquire story about Ebert interested you, be sure to read Roger's subsequent reaction when someone asked about his personal response to it.


  2. Fantastic post Norman.

    And a fantastic follow-up re: Mr. Ebert's longest thread.

    I got hooked on comment threads back at Billmon's old Whiskey Bar where the total following any post often ran to 4-500 (and at his zenith in the spring and summer before the '04 election in the States he was often pumping out 3-4 kinghell posts every single day). Anyway, like the threads attached to Mr. Ebert's posts there was dross, but compared to other places there was ton's of good stuff and real debate in there….I often wondered why those threads were so good when I saw many of the same folks over at, say, Eschaton's place where everything was, essentially, swill or at it's best 'hi, how y'all doin!'-type junk…It was only later, after he stopped, that I realized why, in large part Billmon's threads worked….It was because he, himself, engaged in the conversation – and he would both prod and call-out commenters in real discussions – it was fantastic.



  3. What a lovely posting, Mr. Farrell! I had not been aware of Mr. Ebert's blog until I read yours. Thank you for directing readers to this uplifting spot. In these days it's often easy to forget there are still some candles burning in the darkness to remind us of what really matters. Good for the soul.


  4. Thank you so much for introducing me to the extraordinary attributes of Roger Ebert. The London Perambulatory brought to me the reminder of how 'just being and experiencing' sights, sounds and tastes uplifts the soul. At seventy years of age, I am at the count-down stage of life; but feel it is a time of second childhood – free to roam when and if I please – oft times with serendipitous outcomes.


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