I want to take a moment to thank a man who’s personally been a huge influence on my life. Roger Ebert was more than just a film critic to me. He was an inspiration whose powerful words transcended a profession he made his name on. The last decade in particular saw him become something beyond the “thumbs up / thumbs down” phenomena he first built with Gene Siskel and later Richard Roeper. And now he’s left us much the same way his earlier counterpart did, lost to cancer at 70.

The impact of his death hits like a boot to the gut. I never met the man, but he helped me in more ways than one. He taught me that film criticism wasn’t about liking or disliking a movie, it was about appreciating the totality of film with like-minded folks. Agree or disagree with his reviews, he got you talking, thinking, inspired. And when I found myself at the ass end of one too many liquor bottles, it was his chapter on alcoholism in Life Itself that inspired me to turn my life around. His was a career that people trying to hone a similar craft wish to emulate, and in truth we never will. He was a master of a medium that few will ever conquer, not like he did. And when that was no longer enough, he turned his sights to writing and blogging about life in general, teaching almost by learning. His writing was always reactive to experience, never one to preach but always willing to communicate and begin the dialogue. His love for his wife first, and work second, is something we should all aspire to.

No one will ever be able to begin a dialogue quite like Roger Ebert. A man who lived life to the fullest and who never lost his voice even as its physical presence was ripped away from him, I thank him for sharing it with us all these many years. And though he never feared his own passing, many of his admirers very much did. We lost a leader today, folks.

My dream of being a film critic always came with the hope that I would some day shake this man’s hand. Sorry to say I didn’t make it in time.

See you at the movies, Rog. Always.