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Editorial: We were all better for knowing Roger Ebert

Updated: June 4, 2013 2:33AM



Do you love what you do?

Do you go to work every day and try to master your job and feel deeply that it matters? Do you believe that you can, through sheer excellence, make it matter even more?

Roger Ebert did.

He loved everything he ever did, and made it matter to all of us, perhaps because he chose wisely.

Roger loved the movies and big ideas and great conversation and hard work. He loved the very idea of living a full and examined life, and he was an inspiration to millions of others. Movie fans adored Roger, of course, but so did all of us who at times can feel that electric surge that is life itself.

Speaking of the vitality of youth, Dylan Thomas once wrote — and Roger would appreciate the literary allusion — “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower drives my green age.” That was Roger, a life force, and it did not fade as his green age grew grey.

Roger grew up in Urbana, a pudgy only child, a questioning Catholic boy, in the thrall even then of movies and journalism and ideas, and blessed even then with a stunning work ethic. As a kid in high school, he would work all night covering sports for the local paper, then hit the bars — underage — with those glamorous local reporters he couldn’t get enough of.

Roger moved on to the big city, Chicago, and could never get enough of that, either. He cranked out the smartest stories for the Sun-Times, always delivered in deceptively simple Midwestern prose. Then he’d schmooze into the wee hours with the likes of Nelson Algren and Mike Royko at Riccardo’s and the Billy Goat and, best of all, O’Rourke’s.

But when the drinking got the best of him, Roger quit cold. He wanted to do so much more of everything else — he knew he had it in him — and the drinking got in the way.

Roger was unafraid to try his hand. There was his great TV movie review show, “Sneak Previews,” with his unlikely friend and competitor, Gene Siskel. There was an awful screenplay. And a better novel. And an excellent blog that should have won him his second Pulitzer Prize.

And we who were lucky to work with him, we who felt such intense pride in being Chicago Sun-Times journalists simply because Roger was one of us, we were all better for his example and friendship.

Roger grew wiser with age. A bit less prideful. A good deal more forgiving. You could see it in his film reviews which, frankly, turned more thumbs up over time. Roger did not agree this was so — he was as tough as ever, he would insist. But he also once wrote, late in life, that while it is easy to find fault in a film or in any work of art, our obligation to each other is to see and appreciate that which is great.

That was our Roger. To his dying day, he could grow as excited as a little boy at a carnival when he discovered something of true excellence. And then he would tell everybody — he just had to.

In so doing, Roger Ebert achieved a rare greatness of his own.



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