Uh oh. As I’m sure you all know, Britain’s longest-serving prime minister, Margaret Thatchter, died Tuesday — just five days after the lights in the great Roger Ebert’s personal theater faded to blackness for the final time. And you know what that means: It’s only a matter of time now before an unlucky No. 3 bites the big one.
That’s the pattern, anyway, right? Celebrity deaths — they come in threes. But this next one, alongside a former 11-year leader and a critic who helped an entire generation learn to love the movies, would have to be pretty big. I mean, in terms of cultural stature and influence, it would have be a real icon.
That’s why, after analyzing all of the possibilities — actors, rock stars, cartoon mascots — I’m disappointed to tell you … I think it might be me.
But more on that in a second.
When Ebert died, I felt like doing something dramatic, like climbing onto the roof to wave a flag made out of yellowed newsprint and old film stock. I felt like I had to honor him, as if to prove to my memory that that day, separate from all of the others, was really worth remembering.
He died last Thursday, at 70. Another celebrity death. But this one, for me, felt different.
I’ve seen footage from when John Lennon died, and how people sobbed in the streets, with candles and wreaths and copies of his records. But I never really “got” it. Most of those people never even knew Lennon. They never talked to him or touched him. They only listened to his music, and here they were, balling like babies, over some stranger. It seemed silly.
And until I found out about Ebert, that opinion never changed. Celebrity deaths weren’t personal; they were tabloid fodder. Breaking news. They were things to remember for future games of barroom trivia.
But Ebert had a way of writing that really did feel like a conversation, tucked away in the back booth of some diner somewhere, talking till three in the morning about the first film that made him tingle. His unabashed enthusiasm for movies reflected a greater awe for life itself, even after the cancer got so bad it took his bottom jaw, along with his ability to talk and eat and argue with other reviewers.
He knew he was dying — if you read his online journal, he wrote of death often as a simple matter of fact — but he chose to live instead, to write a memoir and plan film festivals and launch new companies.
I’m not sure I can say that Ebert necessarily made me love the movies, but like so many others, he made me understand what loving the movies meant, and how it was an open, ecstatic and emotional relationship — not just an academic one.
But back to my imminent, tragic, and inevitable, demise.
The way I figure it, this next guy to go will have to be one of a kind — and I’m constantly being told that I’m “something else” and “a real piece of work.”
He’ll have to contribute to society — just last week, I gave a Boy Scout in front of Publix $5 in return for a coupon book (he might still be out there; you can ask him, if you don’t believe me).
And he’ll have to hold a cornerstone position in American pop culture — not just anyone can say that they associate edit for Ormond Beach’s premier community weekly.
I think we can all agree that it’s not looking good for yours truly. And if that really is the case, well, I’d like to go out like Ebert, with dignity, optimism and just the right amount of nostalgia.
I’d also like there to be humor involved, even if it’s completely misplaced. Maybe it’ll be from some punk newspaper columnist. Maybe he’ll make light of loss in print for no other reason than because he’s not sure how else to cope with the death of such a role model.
BY MIKE CAVALIERE | ASSOCIATE EDITOR
How hard do you think a potential control tower closure at the airport could hurt the city? Has doggie dining been a good or bad addition at restaurants? Send your thoughts on any of this week’s stories, or any other relevant topics, to Associate Editor Mike Cavaliere, at [email protected].