Chris Jones in Esquire:
Roger Ebert can’t remember the last thing he ate. He can’t remember the last thing he drank, either, or the last thing he said. Of course, those things existed; those lasts happened. They just didn’t happen with enough warning for him to have bothered committing them to memory — it wasn’t as though he sat down, knowingly, to his last supper or last cup of coffee or to whisper a last word into Chaz’s ear. The doctors told him they were going to give him back his ability to eat, drink, and talk. But the doctors were wrong, weren’t they? On some morning or afternoon or evening, sometime in 2006, Ebert took his last bite and sip, and he spoke his last word.
Ebert’s lasts almost certainly took place in a hospital. That much he can guess. His last food was probably nothing special, except that it was: hot soup in a brown plastic bowl; maybe some oatmeal; perhaps a saltine or some canned peaches. His last drink? Water, most likely, but maybe juice, again slurped out of plastic with the tinfoil lid peeled back. The last thing he said? Ebert thinks about it for a few moments, and then his eyes go wide behind his glasses, and he looks out into space in case the answer is floating in the air somewhere. It isn’t. He looks surprised that he can’t remember. He knows the last words Studs Terkel’s wife, Ida, muttered when she was wheeled into the operating room (“Louis, what have you gotten me into now?”), but Ebert doesn’t know what his own last words were. He thinks he probably said goodbye to Chaz before one of his own trips into the operating room, perhaps when he had parts of his salivary glands taken out — but that can’t be right. He was back on TV after that operation. Whenever it was, the moment wasn’t cinematic. His last words weren’t recorded. There was just his voice, and then there wasn’t.
Now his hands do the talking. They are delicate, long-fingered, wrapped in skin as thin and translucent as silk. He wears his wedding ring on the middle finger of his left hand; he’s lost so much weight since he and Chaz were married in 1992 that it won’t stay where it belongs, especially now that his hands are so busy. There is almost always a pen in one and a spiral notebook or a pad of Post-it notes in the other — unless he’s at home, in which case his fingers are feverishly banging the keys of his MacBook Pro.
He’s also developed a kind of rudimentary sign language. If he passes a written note to someone and then opens and closes his fingers like a bird’s beak, that means he would like them to read the note aloud for the other people in the room. If he touches his hand to his blue cardigan over his heart, that means he’s either talking about something of great importance to him or he wants to make it clear that he’s telling the truth. If he needs to get someone’s attention and they’re looking away from him or sitting with him in the dark, he’ll clack on a hard surface with his nails, like he’s tapping out Morse code. Sometimes — when he’s outside wearing gloves, for instance — he’ll be forced to draw letters with his finger on his palm. That’s his last resort.
C-O-M-C-A-S-T, he writes on his palm to Chaz after they’ve stopped on the way back from the movie to go for a walk.
Roger Ebert continues on his own blog at Chicago Sun-Times:
I knew going in that a lot of the article would be about my surgeries and their aftermath. Let’s face it. Esquire wouldn’t have assigned an article if I were still in good health. Their cover line was the hook: Roger Ebert’s Last Words. A good head. Whoever wrote that knew what they were doing. I was a little surprised at the detail the article went into about the nature and extent of my wounds and the realities of my appearance, but what the hell. It was true. I didn’t need polite fictions.
One strange result was that many people got the idea that these were my dying words. The line Chaz liked least referred to the time he has left. A blog reader said he hadn’t realized I was so frail. Here’s how Romenesko’s Media News linked the item:
Well, we’re all dying in increments. I don’t mind people knowing what I look like, but I don’t want them thinking I’m dying. To be fair, Chris Jones never said I was. If he took a certain elegiac tone, you know what? I might have, too. And if he structured his elements into a story arc, that’s just good writing. He wasn’t precisely an eyewitness the second evening after Chaz had gone off to bed and I was streaming Radio Caroline and writing late into the night. But that’s what I did. It may be, the more interviews you’ve done, the more you appreciate a good one. I knew exactly what he started with, and I could see where he ended, and he can be proud of the piece.
I mentioned that it was sort of a relief to have that full-page photo of my face. Yes, I winced. What I hated most was that my hair was so neatly combed. Running it that big was good journalism. It made you want to read the article.
John Hudson at The Atlantic:
On Tuesday, a sensitive Esquire profile of ailing film critic Roger Ebert lit up the Twittersphere. The piece documents Ebert’s physical deterioration as he continues to battle cancer. Three years ago, Ebert’s jaw was removed and he lost the ability to speak. That didn’t, however, deter him from becoming a prolific Twitter user. On Tuesday, the micro-blogging service returned the favor.
In an outpouring of tweets, users across the country praised Ebert and the man who profiled him, Esquire’s Chris Jones. Here’s a small sampling:
- vwyellowpress: A must-read on movie critic Roger Ebert: Looking for the meaning of life? I think it’s in a story I just read….
- annehelen: If you still haven’t read the Esquire piece on Ebert, do. Now. A narrative fit for one of his beloved films.
- AmyKNelson: if you read anything today, plese go to Chris Jones’ fabulous profile of Roger Ebert, who is dying:
- jodyms: The piece on Ebert is outstanding. A tough read; one where each paragraph has its own revelations. Amazing.
Austin L. Ray at Paste Magazine
Nathan Rabin at Onion A.V. Club:
It is no secret that Roger Ebert is a hero to many of the writers here at A.V Club. He’s an inspiration to just about every film critic alive and now Chris Jones has written perhaps the definitive article about Ebert and his struggles with cancer and silence for Esquire. The deeply moving, incredibly insightful profile has been ricocheting through cyber-space as of late. We cannot recommend it highly enough.
Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing:
Hal sez, “Near the end of his long and touching Esquire article about the career and illness of Roger Ebert, Chris Jones writes about Ebert’s discovery that somebody (probably Disney) had disappeared the YouTube videos of his tribute to Gene Siskel on his own freaking show:”
Ebert keeps scrolling down. Below his journal he had embedded video of his first show alone, the balcony seat empty across the aisle. It was a tribute, in three parts. He wants to watch them now, because he wants to remember, but at the bottom of the page there are only three big black squares. In the middle of the squares, white type reads: “Content deleted. This video is no longer available because it has been deleted.” Ebert leans into the screen, trying to figure out what’s happened. He looks across at Chaz. The top half of his face turns red, and his eyes well up again, but this time, it’s not sadness surfacing. He’s shaking. It’s anger. Chaz looks over his shoulder at the screen. “Those fu — ” she says, catching herself.
They think it’s Disney again — that they’ve taken down the videos. Terms-of-use violation.
This time, the anger lasts long enough for Ebert to write it down. He opens a new page in his text-to-speech program, a blank white sheet. He types in capital letters, stabbing at the keys with his delicate, trembling hands: MY TRIBUTE, appears behind the cursor in the top left corner. ON THE FIRST SHOW AFTER HIS DEATH. But Ebert doesn’t press the button that fires up the speakers. He presses a different button, a button that makes the words bigger. He presses the button again and again and again, the words growing bigger and bigger and bigger until they become too big to fit the screen, now they’re just letters, but he keeps hitting the button, bigger and bigger still, now just shapes and angles, just geometry filling the white screen with black like the three squares. Roger Ebert is shaking, his entire body is shaking, and he’s still hitting the button, bang, bang, bang, and he’s shouting now. He’s standing outside on the street corner and he’s arching his back and he’s shouting at the top of his lungs.
In a new interview with Esquire magazine, famed movie critic Roger Ebert discusses what his life is like now, since surgeries stripped him of his lower jaw and the ability to speak and eat. The touching interview recounts Ebert’s days, which are regimented as his wife Chaz takes care of him, but one thing is for sure: Ebert does not want to be pitied. He is striving to keep publishing his legendary movie reviews and keep the film industry on its toes.Ebert is a cinematic icon whose film reviews and reputation have become legendary. Ebert has held the film industry to a high standard, and it’s difficult to imagine modern movies without considering his opinion. There’s no question, he has the ability to make or break a blockbuster. As part of the once dynamic duo of Siskel and Ebert, he still holds his own today (despite the loss of Gene Siskel, who died 11 years ago from brain cancer.)
While not everyone has to agree with his reviews (four stars for ‘Me and Orson Welles’?), his cinematic critiques keep us talking. Examining each film, Ebert is a recognizable name who’s reputation precedes him.
Even A.O. Scott, a NY Times movie critic and co-host of ‘At The Movies,’ admits Ebert embodies our image of what a movie critic should be. “Anyone who is even slightly interested in movies comes across Roger… What makes him stand out is his ability to turn his technical knowledge of film and make it accessible and clear to the public,” Scott tells PopEater. “He is one of the best daily newspaper critics, and it’s because he can convey his thoughts and judgments about movies effortlessly with knowledge to back it up.”
UPDATE: Rod Dreher
UPDATE #2: Will Leitch at Deadspin
Sonny Bunch at Doublethink