Roger Ebert, long a fixture of film and critique is but 67 years old. Having survived his longtime partner Gene Siskel, who died 11 years ago of a brain tumor, the evergreen critic has been waging a war against cancer himself.
Four years ago, the renowned critic lost his lower jaw and ability to eat and speak, but even that hurdle didn't stop his words. Now, with his pad and pen, his Mac-book Pro and an improvised sign language, he reaches out to his fans and followers in cyberspace and writes perhaps the most poignant prose of his life.
In a recent Esquire article, Ebert's struggles with cancer are chronicled in heart-breaking detail while writer Chris Jones explains how Ebert's words, through his online journal, have grown more personal and powerful.
Reading it from its beginning is like watching an Aztec pyramid being built. At first, it's just a vessel for him to apologize to his fans for not being downstate. The original entries are short updates about his life and health and a few of his heart's wishes. Postcards and pebbles. They're followed by a smattering of Welcomes to Cyberspace. But slowly the journal picks up steam, as Ebert's strength and confidence and audience grow. You are the readers I have dreamed of, he writes. He is emboldened. He begins to write about more than movies; in fact, it sometimes seems as though he'd rather write about anything other than movies. The existence of an afterlife, the beauty of a full bookshelf, his liberalism and atheism and alcoholism, the health-care debate, Darwin, memories of departed friends and fights won and lost - more than five hundred thousand words of inner monologue have poured out of him, five hundred thousand words that probably wouldn't exist had he kept his other voice. Now some of his entries have thousands of comments, each of which he vets personally and to which he will often respond. It has become his life's work, building and maintaining this massive monument to written debate - argument is encouraged, so long as it's civil - and he spends several hours each night reclined in his chair, tending to his online oasis by lamplight. Out there, his voice is still his voice - not a reasonable facsimile of it, but his.