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Much will be written about the genius of the irreplaceable Roger Ebert in the coming days, but as one who had the honor of being Roger’s colleague for the past twenty years, the first words that leapt into my mind at hearing of his passing were “generous,” “kind,” “humble,” and “loyal.”
When I joined the Sun-Times in 1992, Roger obviously was already a national figure, yet his phone call congratulating me on being hired by “The Bright One” was literally the first one I received.
“You’re now part of a great team,” Roger said, “And if there’s anything I can do for you, don’t hesitate to ask.”
While clearly Roger didn’t have to do it, he took it upon himself to open many doors for me in Hollywood, graciously letting the most important people in the film industry know that I was his colleague and he’d appreciate any help they could offer.
The “Ebert Golden Touch” was magical and never failed to provide access to many stars, directors and studio executives I initially would never have been able to reach.
Perhaps my favorite memories of Roger are the hectic, deadline-crunching moments we spent over the past couple of decades backstage at the Academy Awards, jointly covering the Oscar night frenzy, before illness prevented him from attending the show.
To simply watch Roger effortlessly bang out his print-ready analysis and insights into the awards — AS they were happening — gave me the perfect perch to observe first-hand the true depth of his brilliance.
While Roger was confident and self-assured of who he was, and the opinions he proffered to his millions of fans around the globe, it must be noted that the man was never arrogant, and exuded a humble charm that was so endearing.
At the dedication of Roger’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005, he made a point of introducing me to acclaimed director Werner Herzog. “This is a fellow I am happy to say is both my friend and colleague,” said Roger. “You should know each other. I like it when my friends can become friends.”
It was classic Roger Ebert.