As I kid, I knew Roger Ebert as the chubby guy who was famous for something to do with his thumbs.
Now I admire him as a critic, cancer survivor and foodie.
Ebert, known as half of the Siskel-Ebert (then Ebert-Roeper) movie critic duo that hosted At the Movies, has inspired me to be a better writer, a better critic and a better person. Here’s why:
- He can’t eat, but he just wrote a cookbook. Cancer in his thyroid and jaw and the subsequent surgeries to remove the diseases tissue has ridden Ebert of the ability to speak or eat (in case you missed it, here is a wonderful profile about Ebert’s life after cancer). That didn’t stop him from writing The Pot and How to Use It: The Mystery and Romance of the Rice Cooker. According to an article in the New York Times about Ebert and his book, “Most of the recipes came from Mr. Ebert’s head, from friends and from a dedicated group of blog readers who started a sub-cult built around him and rice cookers. They form just one of many tribes who have recently discovered him as a prolific, post-cancer online personality.” Consider me a part of one of those tribes.
- He’s not bitter about his restrictions. In response to his inability to eat food, a reader wrote to Ebert, “That sounds so sad. Do you miss it?” His response was one of the best essays I’ve ever read about food, the power it has to bring people together and the memories it creates. Ebert taught me that life happens, and sometimes it really sucks, but the only thing you can do is move forward.
- He’s more honest than ever. I use Ebert’s movie reviews as a litmus test when I head out to the theater. My opinions usually dovetail with his. I’ve found that he has become more sincere about his movie reviews in wake of his cancer. Ebert knows when a movie is meant to entertain instead of enlighten, and he’s OK with that (see review for Iron Man II). But he’ll also trash a movie that deserves it (see recent reviews for I Spit on Your Grave and Life as We Know It). I try to be as earnest as Ebert in $10 Challenges, even if the food is bad and I might hurt feelings.
- He embraces new media. Ebert’s blog is a hit, and it even earned him the Webby Person of the Year award. Ebert also uses Twitter and has more than 260,00 followers who read his musing on politics, movies and life. If a nearly 70-year-old man can embrace new media, everyone can – and should.