The Essential Man

We have a habit of turning sentimental about celebrities who are struck down—Muhammad Ali, Christopher Reeve—transforming them into mystics; still, it’s almost impossible to sit beside Roger Ebert, lifting blue Post-it notes from his silk fingertips, and not feel as though he’s become something more than he was. He has those hands. And his wide and expressive eyes, despite everything, are almost always smiling.

Siskel & Ebert were my prophets when I was a wee wolf. I remember tuning in to listen to their argumentative sermons on the latest Hollywood offerings, at first always paying obeisance to these scions of cinematic debate, later processing their opinions with my steadily developing disagreeable demeanor.

Gene Siskel’s death broke that magic spell, and I never felt quite right about watching the partially patched ship of Ebert & Roeper. So, sadly, I didn’t even realize at first that Roger Ebert had slipped away from the public eye, his voice lost to a series of surgeries to save his life from the insidious spread of thyroid cancer.

So to see Ebert, profiled in this extraordinary Esquire article, was quite a shock to me. I’m sure it was a shock to most people, since he really hasn’t been seen by the public in almost 4 years. At first blush, we might be tempted to already start eulogizing him in our minds, his surgery-misshapen face and gaunt frame leading us to automatic assumptions that, when we read this article, prove to be greatly exaggerated.

Yes, Ebert is, as the article states, “dying in increments, and he is aware of it.” (Then again, as Ebert points out in his blog, aren’t we all dying in increments?) Not only can he no longer speak, he can no longer eat or drink. His is now a life of many vicarious pleasures. But it is also a life refocused. He has returned to the written word with a vengeance, not only as his sole means of communication but once again to the passion of his prose. He journals profusely, continues to review movies, continues to write books, continues to wield the power of his thumbs like a samurai wields his sword. He is, as the article states most factually, The Essential Man.

I cannot praise this Esquire article enough. Chris Jones has written, not a eulogy, but a tribute of eloquence and intimacy to a man still full of life in all its opinionated glory. Though quite a lengthy piece, I assure you, you will reach the end and be left craving more.