Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert died unexpectedly on April 4. I say “unexpectedly” because while he’d been battling numerous health problems related to thyroid cancer for the past decade, he seemed to otherwise be in good health and was about to embark on a pretty ambitious revamp of his website, RogerEbert.com.
Just two days before dying, Ebert published a blog post titled “A Leave of Presence” in which he outlined his new career plans. Here’s an excerpt:
Typically, I write over 200 reviews a year for the Sun-Times that are carried by Universal Press Syndicate in some 200 newspapers. Last year, I wrote the most of my career, including 306 movie reviews, a blog post or two a week, and assorted other articles. I must slow down now, which is why I’m taking what I like to call “a leave of presence.”
What in the world is a leave of presence? It means I am not going away. My intent is to continue to write selected reviews but to leave the rest to a talented team of writers handpicked and greatly admired by me. What’s more, I’ll be able at last to do what I’ve always fantasized about doing: reviewing only the movies I want to review.
At the same time, I am re-launching the new and improved Rogerebert.com and taking ownership of the site under a separate entity, Ebert Digital, run by me, my beloved wife, Chaz, and our brilliant friend, Josh Golden of Table XI. Stepping away from the day-to-day grind will enable me to continue as a film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, and roll out other projects under the Ebert brand in the coming year.
Pretty ambitious plans for someone who turned out to have been on death’s doorstep, and a poignant reminder that none of us ever really knows how much time we have left. None of us.
What I liked most about Roger Ebert, however, wasn’t that he was alive — it’s that he lived. Ebert dealt with his medical issues with grace and dignity, holding his head high and soldiering on through all the setbacks like few other people could. He had low points, moments when he questioned what he was doing — we all do — but what’s important is he still got up each day and kept putting one foot in front of the other, come hell or high water. That’s something I can relate to and something I always respect.
Ebert found love late in life, not marrying until he was 50. As I find myself barreling toward middle age alone, that’s something I can also relate to and respect. “I sensed from the first that Chaz was the woman I would marry, and I know after 20 years that my feelings were true,” he wrote last year. “She has been with me in sickness and in health, certainly far more sickness than we could have anticipated. I will be with her, strengthened by her example. She continues to make my life possible, and her presence fills me with love and a deep security. That’s what a marriage is for.”
Indeed it is.