I first met Roger Ebert on the red carpet at the Oscars in the mid 80’s when I was reporting live for WBZ-TV and he agreed to do a live shot with me and trade “Oscar picks.” Thereafter, it became our tradition every year when I flew out to cover the awards. After Gene Siskel died, I–along with several other lucky film critics across the country–was invited to sit in the balcony with Roger, thumb to thumb; it was the highlight of my career as a critic.
Roger was brilliant, funny, linguistically gifted, deeply honest and had a voracious appetite for movies. He was a pleasure to argue with because it was never about him– it was always about the content, the movie, the work. He was always up for the conversation, a divergent viewpoint well-defended, and had an innate sense of fairplay. He treated me as an equal and did his best to calm my nerves before our tapings; he’d tell me the best jokes, and some wild stories–one involving Sophia Loren and Petula Clark. Once when he saw me taking drops of a homeopathic relaxation elixir called “Rescue Remedy”– he asked for some too– and it became our ritual before the show. Later, when he was diagnosed with cancer, I sent him a batch in the mail. I think of these things now, and cannot believe I lived them, and that he is gone.
Above all, what struck me was how extraordinarily generous, unpretentious, open, and exuberant he was. He exceeded all reasonable expectations of just how down to earth he might be, one on one, considering his position in the universe of film criticism. Roger was the sun and we were satellites.
He never quit even when he couldn’t talk, his voice expanding as he seeded the webosphere with his words and thoughts on a multitude of subjects. He will always be a reference point for me and millions of others who looked to him to shed some light. He showed us how to think about movies by letting us see how he thought about them. And his view was always anchored in life.
The last time we communicated was via skype about a year ago, and I wanted to reach through the screen and hug him. I loved the man.
And of course, the best words about Roger were written by Roger himself. Read the following and take heart. Thank you, Roger.