Podzilla 1985

Friday, April 05, 2013

A farewell to Roger Ebert - or - The creeping realization of mortality

Roger Ebert died today. If that seemed sudden, I was hoping to reproduce the feeling I had when I read those words on IGN.com earlier.

Actually, let me go back and start this story from the beginning.

I realized recently that I've been sitting on the side lines for too long.

I started this blog years ago when it was a completely useless place for me to vent randomly and incoherently. I called it "Blogs THEY Don't Want You to Know About" because I had just been discussing this Kevin Trudeau guy with a coworker at GameStop. If you don't know who he is then you probably haven't been ripped off by him, but he put out a bunch of self help books that THEY don't want you to know about. As far as I know, he never specified who "they" were, but the title seemed catchy enough for me to rip off so I did and a seldom viewed blog in a sea of bloggers was created.

Fast forward to last year, and I decided to dust off the old keyboard and bitch about random things again. I had a couple of readers and developed an inflated sense of self importance. It wasn't until my interview with the lovely Christine Adams that people really started to take notice though. Suddenly my ramblings weren't enough to keep up with all the visitors I had to the blog, so I brought in some friends and like minded souls to share their insights as well. Things went well as I balanced the rechristened Blogzilla 1985 with my work for MMOSite.com, but I quickly found myself writing more for other sites than my own.

I have a new day job that lets me work with video games again, and that's swell. I've been getting more and more back to the old Shannon that existed before life took its Wiffle Bat of General Discomfort and smashed my teeth out. All was well, except for the thing I cherished most - my creativity.

It's been over a month since my last article and I missed connecting with my readers. I missed tricking myself into thinking people cared about my overwhelmingly biased and poorly written opinions.

I wanted back in.

It's not that Melissa, Lindsey, and Phil weren't doing well on their own. I enjoy their work and they bring a diversity to my site that is sorely needed. Also, the rest of the gang is still here, probably. Louie is off being a celebrity with DDP, Jake Roberts, and Scott Hall. Oz and Caz may very well have died, though.

But, for all of their hard work and talent, Blogzilla 1985 is my baby. It needs me as much as I need it. I decided to make my presence felt again and really push BZ85 to the next level that I had plans for before life managed to screw it all up.

I needed a first article, though. I wanted something topical to bounce back with. My original plan was to talk about the new MMO/TV hybrid "Defiance." Idea number two was to talk about Disney closing down LucasArts and what that meant to me as an old school gamer.

But then, with a heavy heart, I read what would be the real focus of this article. Roger Ebert passed away today after a long painful battle with cancer. I never want to write an article that deals with the loss of life, but his was a life that I had long admired. No, I didn't have to write this article - I needed to. It's people like Roger Ebert that made me realize the value of an opinion. An article about his loss is the least I could do in return.

Just like anyone else with dreams of Hollywood, I grew up watching Roger Ebert. I was introduced to his unique brand of infotainment by way of his weekly show with Gene Siskel, who sadly passed away many years ago now. Watching those two argue about movies was sometimes more entertaining the film they were reviewing.

Two memories stand out to me specifically. The first was when they reviewed "Mortal Kombat" and didn't completely tear it apart. I remember being so happy and so proud because I loved the movie, and if both Siskel and Ebert hated something I loved I kind of felt like maybe I was wrong. In this particular case they agreed that Christopher Lambert, some great choreography, and cheap CG made for a damn entertaining film. The second was an episode of the Simpsons, where a faux Siskel and Ebert argued childishly over the newest McBain film. Homer chuckles at the screen and talks about how much he enjoys watching the fat one argue with the bald one.

I could relate. For years I watched every week on WPSD Channel 6 as Siskel and Ebert waxed poetic on the latest and greatest hits. For a time I no longer wanted to write films - I just wanted to review them. You may not know who wrote some of your favorite films, but you'd be hard pressed to find someone who had never seen Siskel and Ebert. They were the tinsel town equivalent of Santa Claus, Hulk Hogan, or that guy from the Old Spice commercial. You know the one I'm talking about. The guy!!!

When Siskel passed away you could tell it just wasn't the same for Roger. He started to do the show with a revolving door of co-hosts before the producers settled on Richard Roeper. They had a nice chemistry together, but it was a timid substitute for the fire that burned between two long time friends and rivals. I'm not trying to take anything away from Roeper, who is a damn fine writer and entertainer in his own right. Siskel and Ebert were just so incredible together that replacing either one with anyone else would have created the same result.

It was during Ebert's time with Roeper that I began to think about my own mortality. Gene Siskel was such a presence that I still held on to child like beliefs that someone like that could never die. He would live to be a thousand and I would always turn on the TV late on the weekends to see him and Roger sparring over the flavor of the week. When he died I realized that no one lives forever, and that time was much like it was described in Anna Nalick's most famous song - an hour glass glued to the table. I began to notice that no one lives forever, faces fade, and time is an unforgiving bastard.

Ebert's health deteriorated over the years as his battle with cancer turned into a merciless war. I remember seeing the Esquire cover where he first appeared without his jaw and being frightened of what I saw. It wasn't the way he looked that frightened me. I've seen my share of horrors, and a courage man battling a terrible disease did not frighten me. No, it was the fact that this was not the same man I watched every week that made me uneasy. I remember how Roger Ebert looked, as if he were a member of my family that I visited with when I could. This face I saw now was familiar but unsettling, and the article that was attached to it stated very matter-of-factly that he was dying. I know why that face made me feel so horribly now. I was staring into the eyes of my own eventual demise. I was looking at the face of the future, where you can't stop time and everything you know will eventually disappear.

The news of Roger Ebert's death cemented my fear that I will die some day. I will keep getting older day by day, regardless of what I accomplish or how much time I waste. I can count every second of every day or just sleep for a week straight and it will come to the same finale - my finale. As I grow older, more and more of the people I grew up idolizing pass away. Roger Ebert isn't just a loss for me as someone I respected and emulated. His death signifies the very real outcome that I will some day leave this world behind, and everything I cherish within.

Roger Ebert loved his work very much, and even greater was his love for his wife Chaz and his longtime friend Gene Siskel. I can respect the man for his many accomplishments and contributions to the world of entertainment, but I will mourn the man for the aspects that you don't normally care about when it comes to a celebrity. We so often criticize the bad and judge the mistakes that we become jaded to the fact that this very real person is gone. Ebert had no addictions. nor did he live a careless life that ended his existence too early. He was seventy years old when he died, and if any man had lived a full life it would be him.

I can only hope that if I, God forbid, live to be seventy I can say I lived a life half as meaningful as his was. I know I cannot escape death, and though I struggle daily with the fear of leaving everything behind for the great unknown, I take solace in the little things. I enjoy things like the warmth of a loving soul, the crispness of a cold Pepsi, and the starry eyed innocence of a child so enamored with two complete strangers talking about films like they were the most important creations on Earth.

Thank you, Roger. As cliched as it may sound, the balcony is now closed.

I think the man himself said it best in a sadly prophetic post earlier this week about his decision to slow down his work load due to the reemergence of cancer.

"So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I'll see you at the movies."

I highly recommend you read Esquire's piece on Roger Ebert as it a fascinating look into the waning days of a once in a lifetime celebrity. For your convenience you can read it here

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