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Bill Kurtis remembers Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert is interviewed by Bill Kurtis Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner 2011 where Ebert was honored. | phocourtesy Dan

Roger Ebert is interviewed by Bill Kurtis at the Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner in 2011, where Ebert was honored. | photo courtesy Dan Rest

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Updated: April 15, 2013 11:42AM

We know Roger Ebert loved the Sun-Times and his career as a newspaper columnist. But ironically, it was his illness and losing his voice that caused him to explore another venue.

All of us have been thinking about the future of journalism. But while we were talking, Roger was doing it. He jumped into the Internet like Tom Cruise on Oprah’s couch. And for someone who lost the ability to talk, or get around easily, he realized that he could have the world at his fingertips.

His volume of work was hard to believe. Unparalleled in journalistic circles. Sometimes he delivered three or four movie reviews at once.

It even gave him a voice, literally. A computer voice with a choice of accents (he said he always wanted to sound British, but who doesn’t). He was able to program his own electronic voice.

During a recent interview I did with him, I was live, but Roger was electronic, having pre-programmed his answers with his new voice. So he didn’t leave any gaps in answering a question, all he had to do was press a button.

Movie stars and singers never fully pass away because their images are replayed on film and recordings, over and over. But if you think about it, the Internet takes us one step further … and Roger must have known that.

At midnight, following the funeral on Monday, a redesigned website appeared at He and Chaz had been working against time to get it done. But they made it. A redesigned website with a highly searchable database of his movie reviews, his “Great Movies” essay series, easy-to-find blogs from Roger and Chaz — a repository of his body of work, left behind for us. Now, no one ever has to watch a bad movie.

It highlights one important aspect of Roger’s journalistic career, developed in his 60s when he had cancer and couldn’t talk — how’s that for squeezing every second out of life? And it’s a glimpse into the future, not only for journalists, but for every one of us. Instead of leaving a will, leave a life, stored in a Cloud.

I’ve been thinking of what movie script Roger would choose to make his exit, and I think it would be from “The Misfits.” Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe, just six months before their deaths, were in the final scene: a pickup truck driving in the desert at night. They’re looking out at the black sky.

Marilyn says, “How do you find your way back in the dark?”

Gable answers with his arm around her, “Just head for that big star straight on … the highway’s right under it, it’ll take us right home.”

Good night Roger. Just follow that star.

This column is an excerpt of Bill Kurtis’ remarks at “Roger Ebert: A Celebration of Life,” a memorial held at the Chicago Theatre on April 11. Bill Kurtis has donated his fee for writing this column to the Ebert Foundation, which supports arts and education programs.

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