When cancer stole his ability to speak, Roger Ebert went to Twitter for "zingers and one-liners"
Analyst says Ebert naturally understood the back-and-forth nature of social media
He talked movies, but also debated issues from politics to religion on the site
Ebert felt "incredibly fortunate" to live in the Internet age in his final years
Editor’s Note: Explore more about the fascinating world of the late film critic Roger Ebert in an encore presentation of the CNN Film “Life Itself,” Sunday, January 25, at 8 p.m. ET on CNN.
It was on the pages of newspapers and in the coveted aisle seat on television’s “At the Movies” that the world met Roger Ebert, the passionate lover and sometimes combative critic of film who virtually defined cinema critique for a generation.
But in his final years, when cancer had robbed him of his jawbone and whittled away his once ample frame, it was social media, particularly Twitter, that let Ebert not only keep talking, but also interact with his fans, and foes, more freely and personally than ever.
“Twitter for me performs the function of a running conversation,” Ebert wrote in June 2010, about eight months after he signed up for the site and five years after losing his vocal chords and part of his lower jaw to thyroid and salivary gland cancer. “For someone who cannot speak, it allows a way to unload my zingers and one-liners.”
He wrote that he’d sworn never to become a “Twit” – that he’d been sure nothing worthwhile could be communicated in 140 characters. But, in its way, the site, with its fast-paced microbursts of info, was perfect for a man who had never shied away from snark, whether arguing with professional foil Gene Siskel or ripping gashes into “Freddy Got Fingered” or “The Brown Bunny.”
“Twitter is now a part of my daystream,” Ebert wrote. “I check in first thing every morning, and return at least once an hour until bedtime. I’m offline, of course, during movies, and don’t even usually take my iPhone. The only tweeting I’ve done with mobile devices was when our Internet went down one day, and when my laptop was lost in Cannes. But you can be sure that before I write the next three paragraphs I will tweet something.”
If Twitter was made for Ebert, Ebert was, in the end, made for Twitter.
“Roger really understood social media,” said Christina Warren, senior tech analyst with Mashable, a CNN content partner. “He instinctively ‘got it’.”
Forget the need to continue the long-form journalism that won Ebert a Pulitzer Prize. He had his blog, and his Chicago Sun-Times column, for that. Twitter was where Ebert continued talking about movies, politics, life and the universe the same way he’d once done over mugs of beer at his beloved Chicago ale houses.