Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Ebert's sheer love of life

By Bob Greene, CNN Contributor
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Fri April 5, 2013
Film critics Gene Siskel, left, and Roger Ebert pose in this undated photograph. Ebert died on Thursday, April 4, according to his employer, the Chicago Sun-Times. Ebert had taken a leave of absence on April 2 after a hip fracture was revealed to be cancer. Film critics Gene Siskel, left, and Roger Ebert pose in this undated photograph. Ebert died on Thursday, April 4, according to his employer, the Chicago Sun-Times. Ebert had taken a leave of absence on April 2 after a hip fracture was revealed to be cancer.
HIDE CAPTION
Roger Ebert: A life in review
Roger Ebert: A life in review
Roger Ebert: A life in review
Roger Ebert: A life in review
Roger Ebert: A life in review
Roger Ebert: A life in review
Roger Ebert: A life in review
Roger Ebert: A life in review
Roger Ebert: A life in review
Roger Ebert: A life in review
Roger Ebert: A life in review
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bob Greene, friend of Roger Ebert's for more than 40 years, laments his passing
  • He says Ebert was amazing as a young Chicago journalist. They shared great times
  • He says Ebert persevered with humor and intelligence through his illness

Editor's note: CNN Contributor Bob Greene is a best-selling author whose 25 books include "Late Edition: A Love Story"; "Duty: A Father, His Son, and the Man Who Won the War"; and "Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen."

(CNN) -- We were in touch two weeks ago; Roger Ebert was my friend for more than 40 years, and toward the end of March he took it upon himself to send out one of my CNN columns to his more than 800,000 Twitter followers, and I thanked him for his graciousness and generosity, which were constant.

And then, Wednesday, after he had publicly announced that he would be cutting back on his movie reviews as he battled the cancer that would not let up, I wrote him again to say some personal things. We could no longer have regular conversations, of course, because the cancer surgeries had cost him his speaking voice, but the e-mails oddly became more intimate than all the words we said out loud over all the decades.

Bob Greene
Bob Greene

He didn't answer Wednesday's note, which was highly unusual.

He died Thursday.

I wish you could have known him as a young man -- his laughter, his stories, his sheer joy of being out around other newspaper people. You know how well he wrote -- I wish you could have seen how fast he wrote. It was the sound of a machine gun, on those old manual typewriters. No one writes that fast -- and then, to have the result be so beautiful?

Roger was still drinking in those days, and there would be nights on North Avenue in Chicago when the bars would close at 4 a.m., and a group of us would come walking out, and rumbling down the street would be a Chicago Sun-Times delivery truck. We all knew the drivers by name, and they knew us, and they'd stop and invite us to hop in-- they'd give us a ride home while dropping bundles of papers off before dawn.

So there we'd be, in those boxy red delivery trucks, and in the back would be the new editions, right off the press, sometimes still warm and damp. There were nights when Roger would pull the top copy off a bundle, and, right there in the truck, he would read the words of the review he had finished writing just hours before ... oh, he seemed so happy on those nights.

Opinion: What the Internet owes Roger Ebert

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



For several Christmases, we've had a tradition. A couple of Decembers ago, on Christmas Day, I took a walk around the downtown area of Chicago, the streets and sidewalks slick with ice and snow. There is a statue, near the Chicago River, of Irv Kupcinet, the late longtime columnist for the Sun-Times. The statue was coated with snow. I snapped a photo of it and sent it to Roger.

I told him I was sending it in remembrance of all the Christmas Days when we would be working in the fourth floor newsroom of the old Sun-Times building at 401 N. Wabash Avenue, and Kup would come walking in, snow on his overcoat, on the beat as always, holiday or no. Roger wrote back with three words:

"Dat's right, Jack!"

Ebert was mayor of 'Movie Criticville'
Report: Film critic Roger Ebert has died
Richard Roeper: Glad Ebert is at peace
Roger Ebert's influence and legacy
Moore says he owes his career to Ebert

I laughed out loud, and I knew that Roger, if he could, would be laughing, too. Kup used to do the WGN Radio broadcasts of Chicago Bears games with play-by-play man Jack Brickhouse. Whatever Brickhouse might say about a play -- a touchdown, a great tackle, an interception -- Kup could be counted on to reply with:

"Dat's right, Jack!"

And so it was on Christmas Days, right up to and including the last one. I'd once again send that picture of the Kup statue to Roger, and his "Dat's right, Jack!" would come back like clockwork.

It was Roger who called me one day in 1999, his voice shaking and mournful, to tell me the news that our mutual friend and Ebert's television partner, critic Gene Siskel, had just died. The courage Roger has shown these last years as he has fought his own illnesses -- you can read the details of what he went through in the formal obituaries. A man whose voice was so famous, who loved so much to tell stories: to have that stolen from him -- yet to persevere with such humor and intelligence and basic good-guyness...

Ebert kept us entertained at the movies

I was in Chicago for a few days last week. I knew that these recent months had been very difficult for him. On Oak Street, I saw the big, bright vertical sign for the old Esquire Theater.

The theater is gone and there's a new and glitzy steakhouse in the building.

In 1971, in that newsroom at 401 N. Wabash, Roger walked over and handed me the dupes -- the carbons -- of a review he had just written. It was for a film that was opening that week: "The Last Picture Show."

The dupes were light green and flimsy, the letters from that Gatling-gun typewriter of his black and distinct. He told me he thought I'd love the movie.

So, on that day more than 40 years ago, I went to the Esquire and saw it. He was right. It was wonderful.

Last week, seeing the Esquire sign, I walked into the new steakhouse. I wanted to offer Roger a silent toast.

I rode an escalator upstairs. Right around where I think the projection booth must have been, there was a bar. I took a seat and ordered something.

There is some dialogue in "The Last Picture Show," very near the end. Sam the Lion, the rough-hewn soul of the town, has died, and the woman to whom he turned over the movie theater he owned is lamenting the fact that she is going to have to close it down.

Ebert in his own words

She says to the two boys who have shown up on that final night:

"Nobody wants to come to shows no more. Kid baseball in the summer, television all the time. Sam had lived, I believe we could've kept it going. But I just didn't have the know-how."

And then had come the words:

"Won't be much to do in town, with the picture show closed."

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bob Greene.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:47 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 12:50 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
updated 3:38 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
updated 5:22 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
updated 12:08 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
updated 12:20 PM EDT, Sat September 13, 2014
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
updated 6:11 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
updated 6:18 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
updated 1:21 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
updated 1:30 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
updated 9:27 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT