[Editor’s note: Rogert Ebert died Thursday, April 4. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic, co-host of one television’s most well-known shows, teacher, blogger and author Ebert was also a great friend to Fandor. Below, Dan Aronson, Chairman and CEO of Fandor, offers his reflections on the man.]
I (and Fandor) have lost a good friend. I don’t think I can write a better headline that what I just saw in the Tribune: “Roger Ebert dead: A film critic with the soul of a poet.” I first became aware of Roger watching sneak previews when I was a teenager. I occasionally followed Roger’s writings and always liked his strong viewpoints. I thought of him and Gene Siskel in much the same way I thought about John Lennon and Paul McCartney, as strong teams—partners who raised each other to new heights.
Imagine my delight when during the Fandor launch at SXSW in 2011, Kevin Lee came up to me and said that Roger would like to meet with us. I, Kevin and Jane Riccobono went to the presidential suite at the Driscoll Hotel in Austin, and were welcomed by his nurse and wife Chaz. We had a delightful meeting with him. He was very interested in what we were doing with Fandor and what we were doing seemed to fit so well with his interests. I was incredulous, that I (along with the rest of my wonderful team) had been able to build something that was recognized by Roger Ebert. I also realized that my background as a computer geek gave me an affinity for Roger as a film geek!
I will admit that I was excited about the value that being associated with Roger gave to Fandor, but I hope that I’m not being too presumptuous in saying that we bonded. Roger has been an incredible booster for Fandor films and has frequently done Facebook and Twitter posts about us—both when asked and not asked. I really wanted his guidance and offered him an advisory role with Fandor, but Roger comes from the place where he didn’t want the taint of any “official” role. He said would be happy to post and tweet when he saw fit. I love that! We need more of it.
I’ve had the fortune of sitting down with Roger and Chaz for private conversations four times since. I pinched myself each time. While I wish that my friendship had lasted longer, I am truly honored by both the time that we’ve been able to spend together and what I’ve learned from Roger (especially by reading his autobiography).
At the end of 2012 when I was wondering what to give Fandor employees as a holiday gift, I realized that a signed copy of that recent memoir, Life Itself, might work very well. I asked Roger if he would do it, and he said that he would be delighted. We sent him a box of 25 copies and he signed them. I later found out that he did this as he was about to be re-admitted to the hospital. What an excellent man.
I’ve lost a good friend.