Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Ebert's sheer love of life

By Bob Greene, CNN Contributor
April 5, 2013 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
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
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1626 GMT (0026 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT