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Chaz Ebert Reflects on Roger Ebert's Last Days: "He Talked About Visiting This Other Place"

Photo of Beth Hanna By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood January 2, 2014 at 2:55PM

In a moving piece called "Reflecting for the New Year: Roger's Last Day," Chaz Ebert looks back to April 4 of 2013, the day film critic Roger Ebert died. Highlights from the piece below, which is a transcript of what she told to Chris Jones of "Esquire."
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Roger Ebert
Roger Ebert

In a moving piece called "Reflecting for the New Year: Roger's Last Day," Chaz Ebert looks back to April 4 of 2013, the day film critic Roger Ebert died. Highlights from the piece below, which is a transcript of what she told to Chris Jones of "Esquire."

Steve James' documentary of Ebert's memoir, "Life Itself," will be premiering at Sundance on January 19. Chaz writes in her blog post that she hopes James portrays "the man, not the icon" in the film -- and "to show his heart." Meanwhile, Indiewire, Sundance and the Roger Ebert Scholarship for Film Criticism have all collaborated to send six aspiring film critics to this year's fest (finalists here). So Ebert's legacy will be front and center in the weeks to come.

Chaz on the moment Ebert died:

My daughter and I went to pick him up [from the hospital]. When we got there, the nurses were helping him get dressed. He was sitting on his bed, and he looked really happy to be going home. He was smiling. He was sitting almost like Buddha, and then he just put his head down. We thought he was meditating, maybe reflecting on his experiences, grateful to be going home. I don't remember who noticed first, who checked his pulse…

On dealing with the reality of his death in those first few moments:

I was stunned. But as we realized he was transitioning out of this world and into the next, everything, all of us, just went calm. They turned off the machines, and that room was so peaceful. I put on his music that he liked, Dave Brubeck. We just sat there on the bed together, and I whispered in his ear. I didn't want to leave him. I sat there with him for hours, just holding his hand.

On Ebert's spirituality before dying:

The one thing people might be surprised about—Roger said that he didn't know if he could believe in God. He had his doubts. But toward the end, something really interesting happened. That week before Roger passed away, I would see him and he would talk about having visited this other place. I thought he was hallucinating. I thought they were giving him too much medication. But the day before he passed away, he wrote me a note: "This is all an elaborate hoax." I asked him, "What's a hoax?" And he was talking about this world, this place. He said it was all an illusion. I thought he was just confused. But he was not confused. He wasn't visiting heaven, not the way we think of heaven. He described it as a vastness that you can't even imagine. It was a place where the past, present, and future were happening all at once.

This article is related to: News, Roger Ebert (1942-2013), Roger Ebert Fellowship , RogerEbert.com, The Village Voice, Slant Magazine


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.