Guest column: A love letter to Roger Ebert: my hero

Rex Santus

I knew I had to write something.

After all, it was Roger Ebert who once wrote to an aspiring — now enormously successful — film critic: “write-write-write for any place that will print your stuff.”

Scarcely a week has passed since I was a young teenager that I have not ventured to Mr. Ebert’s website, eager to read whatever new words had danced from his fingertips to my computer screen.

As his health failed, Ebert did not review movies as often and wrote less altogether, but he still peppered Twitter and his journal with small witticisms and remarkably wise reflections, often in fewer than 140 characters.

We did not always agree — Ebert thought “Crash” was a better movie than “Brokeback Mountain.” Ha! —but I always revered his opinion above all others. I felt curiously rejected when I’d learn Ebert did not love a movie I was passionate about.

To older film lovers, Ebert was one of the thumbs approving or panning the latest flicks on “Siskel and Ebert,” but never to me. I rarely saw his round face in motion, but it was always welcomingly peering at me from the top left corner of his blog. He was the best friend I never knew.

No, I did not know Roger Ebert.

But I did.

He was a man who brought me comfort and acquitted himself with honesty, dignity and humor, qualities he never lost despite very publicly confronting death. He nurtured my love for movies and inspired me to be a writer. A man I never met nor ever will is largely responsible for the man I hope I am.

Roger Ebert was not a conventional hero. He did not fight crime or cure diseases. He spent most of his life in dark rooms, watching movies and writing about them and love and life. I sit in my apartment, refreshing my Twitter timeline, witnessing in real time the profound impact Roger Ebert’s writing has had on so many.

One man’s love for movies pillars a community of film lovers.

Still, Ebert was so much more than a film critic. He was opinionated about everything, never above educating or scolding his readers. He was always writing about everything, and he never let his love for life slip away, even when he had every right to do just that — even as he lost his jaw and, with it, his ability to speak.

I struggle to find the right combination of words to encompass my respect and love for Roger Ebert, but then again, he was always better with that sort of thing than I. I’ll wrap this love letter up with a line from the man himself: “Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you.”

Thank you for everything, Roger Ebert. I’m so excited to spend the rest of my life seeing films, talking about films, arguing about films, loving films. I’m so excited to be alive.

I owe so much to you. I’ll think of you often.

As the final line in your journal reads, I’ll say the same: I’ll see you at the movies.