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Chaz Ebert Reflects on Roger Ebert’s Last Days: “He Talked About Visiting This Other Place”

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

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.

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