Last week, when I heard that Roger Ebert had died, it came as a big shock, and I started to wonder why his death had affected me so, since I had never met or spoken to him. There is the obvious reason—that for years I had read and enjoyed his movie reviews, identifying with the Midwestern common sense of his critiques, which were laced with humor. Sometimes I didn’t agree with his opinions, but he always made me see where he was coming from.
But there’s another reason for missing him: his upbeat attitude as he battled cancer continually astonished me. For many people, to suffer a so-called “disfiguring” surgery and then to lose their voice would give reason for disappearing from public life. Instead, he barely skipped a beat, finding new outlets in social media, as well as continuing his online movie reviews. I’m sure he had his dark days, but in the several times I saw him interviewed on TV, the joy in his eyes was real. I learned as much from that joy in the face of adversity as from reading many years of movie revues.
In his book “Life Itself: A Memoir,” Ebert said, “I believe that if, at the end, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”
We meet gurus in strange places, and I think that in the future, every time life throws me a curve ball, I will think of Roger Ebert.
Lastly, here’s an interview with Ebert about film criticism, including his explanation of the origin of the “two thumbs up” rating system.