The Reel: Remembering an Icon

Ben Conniff

I was very shocked and sad to hear the news of Roger Ebert’s passing last Thursday.

For those who don’t know, Ebert served as a film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper for 46 years and coined the term “Two Thumbs Up” along with his late colleague Gene Siskel.

In 2006, part of Ebert’s jaw was removed in response to cancers of the thyroid and salivary gland. The operation rendered him speechless, but not without a voice.

The Sun-Times announced his death just two days after Ebert wrote his final blog post titled “A Leave of Presence” in which he revealed that cancer had returned to his body and that he’d be reducing the number of reviews he wrote, while leaving the major stresses of his daily endeavors to more capable hands.

He discussed his intentions to focus on oversight of the redesigned and his personal film festival known as “Ebertfest.”

It wasn’t a secret that Ebert’s health was failing, but he had already come back once. And he wrote this final piece with such hope that I couldn’t imagine him passing away only two days later.

That’s what made his death so shocking to me.

But it’s the last lines of that final blog entry that serve as a fitting epitaph for Ebert’s life’s work.

“So on this day of reflection,” he writes, “I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I’ll see you at the movies.”

I’ll see you at the movies. Could a man like Roger Ebert have a more fitting send-off?

As a prolific writer and well-respected critical voice in the industry, I’d expect nothing more or less from him.

In the wake of my own endeavor as a blogger and film critic for the Herald, my parents got me Ebert’s memoir, titled “Life Itself,” for Christmas last year.

I started reading it on Thursday as a way of paying my respects, and from what I’ve gathered so far, Ebert’s is a voice that’s humble, witty and emotional — qualities similar to many of the best movies he reviewed over his illustrious career.

I look forward to finishing the book soon and taking away valuable life lessons as I continue my own critical endeavors.

Roger Ebert was an inspiration to everyone in the film and press industries, and continues to be a shining example for young critics and journalists of all kinds to aspire toward.

Best wishes go out to his family and colleagues at the Chicago Sun-Times and around the country.