It took me a good 10 minutes to even begin to formulate the first word of a column about the death of renowned film critic Roger Ebert on Thursday, and the impact he had on my personal and professional life.
It took me even longer to accept the news of his death when a friend broke it to me through a text message.
I've had two passions since before I even knew what the word "passion" was: Film and journalism. Both industries always have, and probably always will, fascinate me. Roger Ebert married those two passions perfectly.
In my list of role models who have inspired me the most in my life -- Roger Ebert, Howard Stern and Bart Simpson -- Ebert is not only perhaps the most reputable of the three, but he has had the biggest influence.
When I was a young boy in Central Indiana in the 1990s, The Indianapolis Star used to print snippets of his reviews, and I would cut them out of every Sunday edition and save them. Most of the time I wouldn't fully understand his reviews, and almost all of the time he was reviewing a movie that I was too young to see.
Ebert fascinated me. He was a name synonymous with both film and journalism. As I grew, so did my interest with Ebert. I grew to understand and respect his amazing command of the English language, which was particularly tart when having a verbal joust with Gene Siskel on their popular syndicated program, "At the Movies."
Ebert was the coolest man in the world to me. He took film criticism and print journalism, overwhelmingly faceless industries, and put a face to it. And other body parts, too. His big, round thumb pointing upward became one of the most iconic and coveted gestures in all of film criticism. "Two thumbs up" in a movie advertisement? That meant Siskel liked the film too, an astonishing feat if only for the fact that Siskel and Ebert agreed on something.
I was heavily involved in the journalism program all four years I attended Central Indiana schools. Journalism, be it print or broadcast, has always been my reprieve. I'm a firm believer that journalism kept me from dropping out of high school. And I was in journalism to begin with because Roger Ebert inspired me at a young age. So indirectly, Roger Ebert kept me from dropping out of high school.
I would write movie reviews in almost every issue of my high school newspaper. That continued into my days at the University of Southern Indiana. I won two awards for reviews I did in college: Second place for "Toy Story 3," and first place for "Scream 4." I tweeted the links to Ebert, saying I felt like it was actually possible for people like me to follow in his footsteps.
Whenever I write about movies or the film industry, I'm comfortable, I'm happy. It's what I wanted to do since I was young enough to put pen to paper. I was wowed by Ebert's writing style, his talent, his wit and ability to win a Pulitzer Prize for film criticism. He was that larger-than-life influence for me that helped me to start finding my own voice.
I followed Ebert's life every step of the way, through his bout with cancer, which ultimately led to his death Thursday. I knew he was taking a "leave of presence," after cancer had returned, and was preparing myself for the worst news. But you can never really prepare for the death of a role model.
The curtain may have closed on Ebert's life, but it was certainly a timeless classic. And there will never, ever be the need for a remake.