No matter what they’re charging to get in, it’s worth more to get out.

-Roger Ebert on “Armageddon,” July 1st, 1998

Roger Ebert was a titan – perhaps the titan – of film criticism, and his rise (which began in the late 60s) signaled a major changing of the guard. Tasked with bridging the generational gap between WWII vets and baby boomers, Ebert intelligently transformed the stuffiness of his forebearers into an accessible, yet still cerebral celebration of film. Along with his television partner, the late Gene Siskel, Ebert brought movies to the masses and served as a cinematic tour guide for millions, myself included.

My late grandparents (on my father’s side) introduced me to “Siskel And Ebert” in the early 90s, and as an eager 7 year-old movie fanatic, I would often tune in to catch a glimpse of the latest blockbusters. The duo’s banter was light, funny, occasionally mean, but always intelligible – even for a kid who hadn’t yet learned long division.

While the show didn’t ignite my love of film, it certainly stoked it. And when the internet came into our home, I spent countless hours lost in the Chicago Sun-Times’ archives of Ebert’s work.

As I grew older, I came to disagree with Ebert more frequently – about movies, politics, religion, and the other topics he blogged about – but even in the face of Gene Siskel’s death and his own declining health, it seemed that his passion for film was as strong as ever. Perhaps stronger. I thought about meeting him one day, how I would thank him for his work, and how we might have a conversation about the childhood events that formed our love of movies. That day never came.

But while I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Ebert, it’s been an honor to get to know him through his work, and the torch that he passed on to new generations of film lovers will remain, never to be extinguished.

Tomorrow will be the first day of my life with the knowledge that Roger Ebert isn’t sitting in a darkened theater somewhere, basking in the glow of Hollywood’s latest, jotting words down in a spiral notebook. But just yesterday, Ebert wrote about taking a leave of absence, underscoring the following – “I am not going away.” Truer words were never written.

-J. Olson