Nashville Scene editor Jim Ridley, who began his career at the alternative weekly in 1989, died today at the age of 50. According to an obituary posted on the Scene’s website, he collapsed in the paper’s office after suffering a cardiac event on March 28, and never regained consciousness.
Outside of Nashville, Ridley is probably best known as the Scene’s long-running film critic, where he won first-place honors in the criticism category from the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies in 2006 and 2010. The Scene was also where he published reviews by Bilge Ebiri, Mike D’Angelo, Noel Murray, Michael Sicinski and many others. It might seem odd that a Nashville alt-weekly consistently published some of the best film writing in the country, long after most other weeklies either folded or became dried-up husks of their former selves, but Ridley kept it going through hard times, and stayed true to the mission so many once like-minded papers abandoned as the market shriveled.
My in-person interactions with him were regrettably few, but I’ll never forget the night I met him. It was my first or second time at the Toronto Film Festival, where in the days before social media meeting colleagues was often a matter of trying to furtively match the names on press badges to familiar bylines. I was a kid from Philadelphia who knew basically knew no one, but when we somehow wound up being introduced, Jim responded, “Oh, hey!” as if he’d just met a minor celebrity. (Turns out the weekly grind of posting my reviews to IMDb had been worth it.) It was one of the first times I’d felt truly appreciated as a writer, and it meant the world to me, but to judge by those who knew him better than I, it was all part of the infectious enthusiasm he brought to every aspect of his professional life, and his personal life as well.
After Ridley went into the hospital, his longtime friend and colleague Noel Murray wrote:
“When I first started writing for the Scene in 1993, a few months after I graduated from college, Jim was generous enough to make some space for me in the film section. Sometimes I come across that work again, and it’s awful. I still don’t know why he let me keep writing; but he was always encouraging, and sometimes he even kicked my ass a little when he felt like I wasn’t putting in the effort to get a piece right. I’ve told him before how much I owe him. He waves it off, but it’s true: There’s no way I’d have gotten this far in my career without Jim’s mentorship.
“I don’t know if he knows how much I enjoy his big bear-hugs, or his nasal voice (which sounds a little like Mr. Haney from Green Acres), or the way he pronounces the “l” in the word “half,” or the ease with which he can peel off a wicked pun, or the way he evangelizes for Nashville’s best food and music, or his equally fervent appreciation for high art and pop trash, or how he’s so intensely sentimental that he often seems like he could burst into tears at any moment (especially when he talks about his wife and kids).
“I could say a lot about Jim as a writer and a critic, and how I always wanted to return the favor he did for me, and help him reach the wider national audience he richly deserves. But he and I have talked about that a lot, and he’s always said that he prefers to stay local, writing for and editing the same paper he’d worked for since his early 20s.”
I am saddened beyond words. Jim Ridley was not onyl an amazing editor but a kind and gracious friend. My condolences to his family.
— Michael Sicinski (@msicism) April 8, 2016
I only got to meet Jim a couple of times, but he was such a life force that imagining him gone is nearly impossible. https://t.co/oNQr7Qf7DB
— Mike D’Angelo (@gemko) April 8, 2016
Every time Jim assigned me a review, it was for a film or director that he knew I loved. He actively sought out enthusiasm.
— Mike D’Angelo (@gemko) April 8, 2016
I remember being a pretty arrogant kid in my late teens, and Jim Ridley treating me with warmth and generosity I surely didn’t deserve…
— Gabe Klinger (@GabeKlinger) April 8, 2016
Crushed. Jim was one of the best writers I’ve known, and an even better person. All my love to his family. https://t.co/WO89CaOD1I
— Scott Tobias (@scott_tobias) April 8, 2016
Just came out of a beautiful film about hope and perseverance to hear that my friend is gone. Goodbye, Jim. You helped make me who I am.
— Noel Murray (@NoelMu) April 8, 2016
The loss of Jim Ridley is a profound one, he touched a lot of lives, and we are all going to miss him terribly. https://t.co/gGvBKWYoAi
— Megan Barry (@MayorMeganBarry) April 8, 2016