In typical fashion, Roger Ebert took to the Internet Tuesday night to share the news that the disease that had robbed him of his voice, but not his determination to share his love of cinema, had returned. He warned that he would have to cut back on his reviewing for the Chicago Sun-Times, where he had toiled for 46 years.
He also insisted that he would not be taking a leave of absence, but a "leave of presence."
While one of America's pre-eminent film critics managed to not just survive but thrive after his first bout with cancer -- he critiqued 306 films last year alone, his most ever -- this time, he could not defeat it. Ebert, 70, died Thursday, less than 48 hours after writing optimistically that his sickness actually would fulfill a fantasy: "Reviewing only the movies I want to review."
True, those movies will not be given the benefit of being judged with a "thumbs-up" or "thumbs-down" -- Ebert's trademark reaction introduced on the groundbreaking TV show with partner and Chicago Tribune rival Gene Siskel that began in 1975 as Sneak Previews on PBS and brought movie reviewing to the masses.
But the native of Urbana, Ill., who said he learned how to critique by reading Mad magazine film parodies, could still claim to be taking only a "leave of presence," given the influence he exerted on generations of loyal readers, TV viewers and budding reviewers who saw him as their role model.
As thrilling as it was to watch Ebert and Siskel turn their debates into a verbal bloodsport, it was overwhelming to interview Ebert via text-to-speech software in his Chicago brownstone to promote his 2011 memoir, Life Itself. One felt not only his passion for movies but also the unflagging desire awakened by his illness to communicate with others. "Online, my entire mind comes into play," he said, "and I feel a hunger to express myself. I imagine I would be desperate without the Internet."
It's perhaps best to use Ebert's own words to sum up his own sign-off to those who loved and admired him: "Thank you for going on this journey with me. I'll see you at the movies."
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