When I was a kid, I never wanted to be a doctor. I never dreamed of being a lawyer. I didn’t like animals, so I never thought about being a vet. I thought children were obnoxious, so I thought people who wanted to be teachers were insane. Firefighting and policing seemed too dangerous. I am not a big enough dreamer to think that I could pull off President of the United States.
You know the only thing I wanted to be as a kid? I wanted to be a movie critic. I wanted to be like Siskel and Ebert, those faceless “two thumbs up” guys. When I watched a movie as a kid, I would rate it by a number of thumbs, not quite understanding that two was the limit.
Roger Ebert influenced my life from the beginning, and yes, this is what people say when people pass, but this is my truth. And I sit here now, not a movie reviewer, but as a person with a voice that is heard on a national level–at least–and I feel touched that I was so influenced by a man who had the perfect combination of satire, warmth, intelligence, and intellect. His friendship and endearing professional relationship with Gene Siskel, who passed away in 1999, was one of my favorites–possessing a genuineness rarely seen in show business.
Ebert, born in the early 40s, began his career while writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, and in fact, continued writing for them all the way up until his death. Ebert became most well known when he and Siskel began hosting Siskel and Ebert at the Movies, which aired for over twenty years, all the way up until Siskel’s untimely death. Richard Roeper, a fellow Sun-Times writer, eventually took over for Siskel, and the show continued under various names. Siskel and Ebert, of course, made “two thumbs up,” referring to when they both agreed upon a well-made movie, famous.
In the early 2000s, Ebert underwent numerous surgeries to treat his thyroid cancer. Part of his jaw had to be removed, and Ebert lost the use of his voice. He was not as public with his new appearance–part of his jaw was missing, and he had no voice–but he never let that affect his career. Ebert became well known on the internet, and became accustomed to using a computerized voice system and his wife’s translation when he was to speak in public. Ebert was well versed on twitter, and his voice, though physically silenced, was never, ever silenced.
When questioned about appearing in public with his condition, Ebert, with his perfectly consistent balance of class and feistiness claimed that “We spend too much time hiding illness. I was told photos of me in this condition would attract the gossip papers — so what?”
Yes, so what? Ebert’s successes are deep and impactful–he shaped the entire way we watch movies. With his opinions, he influenced directors and actors alike. His opinions changed the way his colleagues, magazines, newspapers, and websites, watched a film.
He was harsh and hilarious:
“The Last Airbender is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented.”
“I would rather eat a golf ball than see this movie again.”
He was deep:
“I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state … I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting.”
He was brilliant:
“Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you.”
“I believe empathy is the most essential quality of civilization.”
He was passionate:
“I had no idea you could be a movie critic for this long. But I guess you can. My love for movies has only grown over the years.”
He was realistic:
“Because of the rush of human knowledge, because of the digital revolution, I have a voice, and I do not need to scream.”
“I’m not angry that I got cancer. I’m happy that I’m able to function in my work. I’m happy that I’m here today.”
Ebert was an incredibly successful man, who loved his family, who loved his friends, who loved his job, but who most of all, loved the movies. A person who dedicated their life honoring something so important–because art is important—is exactly the kind of person who should be honored. He was taken from us too soon, but there are no words that ever came out of his mouth that made me feel like I should be sad right now.
For a minute, I felt like we lost a significant voice, but then I remembered. The initial cancer diagnosis did not silence him. His tracheotomy did not silence him. The literal loss of his voice did not silence him, and in death, he shall not be silenced. His words, his opinions, his humor, and that huge, huge heart of Roger Ebert’s, will be honored forever. Movies–even the terrible ones–are forever immortalized, and Ebert shall be treated just the same. Forever in our minds, and in our hearts.
Mr. Ebert, you get a resounding two thumbs up.
We will see you at the movies.