Last Wednesday Roger Ebert announced on his blog that he'd take a "leave of presence", meaning generally that he'd be writing less, due to the reappearance of cancer in his body. On Thursday, I saw a wire service report about that and put it in this section for the Friday paper. Little did I know. Little did we all know.
On Friday morning, I woke up to the sad news that Ebert, a Chicago-based film critic and probably the most widely-read film writer in the world, had died. He was 70. He'd been writing about movies _ with fire, zest, and unbridled passion _ to his very last days, for 46 years.
As friends, fans and admirers from all over the world contribute pieces in his remembrance, I'd like to take the opportunity to do the same. Ebert's influence reaches far and wide, in the present tense. His ardour for good movies and scathing put-downs for bad ones remain indelible in my memory as if it were the first time I read him 15 or 16 years ago. It would not be too presumptuous to say that I learned a lot from him during my autodidactic years _ learning not just about movies and writing, but about how critical insight can be a form of good journalism. Learning, too, that writing about cinema isn't a trifling, fluffy, inconsequential pursuit practised by second-rate reporters _ a thought that still holds true sometimes in a place that doesn't nurture a strong culture of criticism such as here.
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