Roger Ebert to Me: "Wish I had your brain."

Posted 4:22 PM April 4th, 2013 by Senh Duong
Roger Ebert

I'm still shocked and saddened by the news of Roger Ebert's death. I know, I know, he was fighting cancer, and the odds were against him. It's just that it has only been a couple days since he announced his leave of absence.

Also, he had been very active on the internet, writing reviews for the Chicago Sun-Times and updating his blog, Facebook Page, Twitter account, and his newsletter.

Even in the announcement of his leave of absence, he wrote that he was rebooting his website and launching a Kickstarter campaign for "At The Movies." For a guy going through another treatment of cancer, he sure was keeping himself busy. I felt like (and hoped) he would get through it.

I was looking forward to his future endeavors. But like Binh said in his tribute, his condition was worse than he let on.

Like many people, I first knew of Ebert from the show "Siskel & Ebert." I started watching it religiously since high school. It was the only show of its kind: two guys, a bunch of opening movies, and a discussion about their merits. It was both informative and entertaining.

From reading his reviews, I learned that, like me, he was a Jackie Chan fan. When Chan's Hong Kong films were imported to the States, I was searching the web for reviews to gauge their critical reception.

The two inspired me to create Rotten Tomatoes.

When I was looking for a name to call my movie review aggregation site, I was thinking 'Thumbs Down' - as a tribute to the show. How cool would it be to have a big thumb squashing a bad movie. I was naive. Luckily, Ebert, Siskel, Disney and cybersquatters had already bought domain names for every permutation of 'Two Thumbs Up.' I had to find a name that is not only available but wouldn't get sued by the show I revered.

That's how I came up with the idea for Rotten Tomatoes.

I've only met Ebert twice, but we've corresponded via email throughout the years. The first time I met him was at an event about online videos several years before YouTube's existence, and I think he was representing Yahoo! Internet Life (magazine). What struck me immediately after our brief conversation was how enthusiastic and accepting of the internet he was. Unlike some of his peers back then, who had thought the internet was a threat to their jobs, Ebert had completely embraced the new medium.

The second time was when I was at Cannes with my co-workers Jen Yamato and Tim Ryan. We were at one of those media parties. As usual, he was gracious and approachable and invited us to sit with him and his wife Chaz.

He had always been very generous. He wrote about Rotten Tomatoes on Yahoo! Internet Life, the Chicago Sun-Times website, on his show, and even when he was on Jay Leno. And it's not just with my website; I've heard similar things from other movie webmasters and online writers too.

In his memoir "Life Itself," he wrote: "I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do."

I feel grateful and privileged to have known him, a hero who has influenced and inspired me to watch movies and build movie sites. It's a sad day. Condolences to his wife Chaz and their love ones.

Regarding the title, it's from an email he wrote to me when was launched in 2008. My immediate reaction was, "What?! I wish I have yours!"

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