"Famous People with Disabilities" are tricky, for many reasons. For one thing, some people are famous for their disabilities, while others seem to be famous for other things, and their fame spills over into the disability aspects of their identities. And then there are those who are, in fact, disabled in some way, but you'd never know it, and the people themselves never refer to it.
Roger Ebert seemed to take a different approach. He became disabled quite late in an eventful life, long after achieving the essential fame with which he died … as America's premier film critic, a role model for generations of film critics and just plain film lovers after him. He remained mainly a film guy after the onset of his disability, and never tried to put himself forward as a disability spokesperson or leader. But he did talk and write about his experience of disability, sparingly, carefully, but always with feeling and insight. Best of all, like the true critic he was, he sought out and publicly appreciated others with disabilities and what they had to say. Its almost as if he took pleasure in being a student of disability … the new guy so to speak. But a new guy who happened to have a gift for analysis and clear expression.
Film critics appreciate and strive to understand experiences on multiple levels, seeking both superficial pleasure and deeper meeting. Maybe that's why Roger Ebert's occasional discussions of disability were so fresh. He knew how to help others understand disability as he experienced it, while also finding deeper significance and seeing connections to other areas of faith, identity, communication, and politics.
I've collected links to many articles that came out yesterday about Roger Ebert, most of them from other film critics and others who write about popular culture. What I'll share here is a Tweet and a bit of affectionate satire from The Onion:
TV critic Mo Ryan Tweets:
"An Ebert quote that helped get me through some dark times:
"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. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhapy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out."