Roger Ebert: The Balcony Is Closed

Roger Ebert: The Balcony Is Closed

I was saddened to hear of Roger Ebert's death today at the age of 70.  His death was sudden given that he announced just yesterday that he was taking a "leave of presence" to battle a recurrence of the cancer he battled for nearly a decade.

Roger Ebert was a small town guy made good.  Born and raised in central Illinois, Ebert came to Chicago in 1966 as a reporter for the Chicago Sun Times, becoming movie critic a year later.  He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1972 but it wasn't until years later, when teamed with Chicago Tribune critic Gene Siskel for a PBS show called Sneak Previews, that his star was launched.


Sneak Previews was from another era; the pre-cable, pre-on demand days.  Imagine, you youngsters out there, a far away time when you had to either turn newspaper pages or get in front of a T.V. (VCR's weren't even in vogue) or radio to learn what's playing at the local movie house.  In the era of "must see TV" viewers flocked to a half hour of two guys talking movies.

If it was Saturday night in Chicago, chances were you weren't going anywhere until you heard what Siskel and Ebert had to say.  Our house was no different.  My parents went to a movie every weekend for over 30 years, none of them without a "thumbs up" from Siskel and Ebert.

And you always wondered what went down once the show ended, because Siskel and Ebert, at least on camera, were like oil and water.  Gene Siskel had a light smugness about him while Roger Ebert was the everyman, generous and caring.  Overweight, glasses and rumpled clothes, Roger Ebert was a sharp contrast to the thin, balding Ivy League pedigree of Gene Siskel.  They fought on camera, making passive aggressiveness an art form.  For viewers, siding with one critic over the other said much about ourselves.

Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel became mega television stars and cultural icons; anointing another movie critic soon became as challenging as naming Oprah's equal.  After Gene Siskel died in 1999 Ebert continued the show (subsequently named At The Movies) until cancer treatments forced him to leave the show.  He was true to his journalism roots until the end, blogging and writing moving pieces about film, life and his struggles with cancer because, as they say, "writers write."  How ironic that losing the ability to speak as a result of cancer made Ebert's voice more powerful.

Roger Ebert has been described as having "the soul of a poet."  His words, wit and voice will be missed.

What are your memories of Roger Ebert?  I would enjoy hearing from you.

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