Roeper: Tribute to Roger Ebert's thumbs-up sign
05:00 AM, Apr 05, 2013
Roger Ebert’s famous thumbs-up sign took on a very different symbol as he battled cancer, according to Richard Roeper, who co-hosted At the Movies with Ebert for eight years
Roeper says that after Ebert lost the ability to speak following cancer surgery, he would give the symbol following each visit, especially when in the hospital.
“When you’d leave him, he’d give you a thumbs up,” says Roeper. “It was more like a carry on thing. It was business as usual. You wouldn’t walk out of the hospital room feeling depressed. You’d walk out of there thinking I wish I had half the enthusiasm that Roger does.”
“He was human like the rest of us, there were moments when things were very tough,” says Roeper. “But when I saw him at the hospital or a home, there was nothing but passion and enthusiasm.”
Ebert died on Thursday at age 70 two days after announcing that he would be forced to cut back from his Pulitzer Prize-winning movie reviewing following his cancer’s return. Roeper says he was aware of Ebert’s condition, but still “shocked” by the news on Thursday.
“I knew it was not going to get better,” says Roeper. “I didn’t think (in two days) we were going to lose him. But I feel that once he shared with the world that he was going to step back, maybe he found he had that little bit of closure with his legions of fans and he was able to let go.”
Roeper says that when he started work at the Chicago Sun-Times in the late 80s, Ebert was already a long-established television star alongside his famous on-air movie review partner Gene Siskel.
“It was like having our own rock star in the newsroom,” says Roeper of working with Ebert. “But he’d be in his comfortable Rockport shoes and a sweater vest. He didn’t change. It was the same haircut, the same glasses. He used to tease me about how much I’d spend on my haircuts. He’d tell me he got his for eight bucks at Supercuts. That was the kind of guy he was.”
Ebert and Siskel had what Roeper calls a “brotherly, love-hate relationship.” They would take their film disagreements to most any other topic.
“Neither one of them wanted to give into the other on anything,” says Roeper. “I interviewed them for the 20th anniversary of their show and walking to the elevator they would be arguing about the best sandwich in Los Angeles. It never ended.”
Ebert took more of a “proud uncle” role when Roeper took the chair next to Ebert in 2000. The relationship flourished through their last in-person meeting, a few months ago in the hospital.
“The hospital visit quickly turned into a film meeting with Roger, his wife Chaz, and the film editor on the upcoming spring movie schedule, who was going to review what and what we were looking forward to seeing,” says Roeper. “It was classic Roger. Nothing melancholy. Just movies and the business at hand.”