Thursday, February 26, 2009

Remembering Gene Siskel

Roger Ebert wrote a touching, informative piece about Gene Siskel on the recent 10 year anniversary of his death. It was interesting to learn more about their TV partnership but especially about the way Siskel faced cancer and, ultimately, his death.

Stuart called us in France: "Gene is having surgery." We wanted to call and send him flowers. "I don't know where he is," Stuart said. "He didn't tell me." We later found out it was Sloan-Kettering in New York. There was a statement that Gene had undergone tests and was recovering after a procedure. Gene took some time off (together we chose Tom Shales of the Washington Post to sit in for him). When he returned to the show, he was obviously ill, but we never discussed his health, except to agree that he was recovering--recovering from what, was never said.
I understood this at the time, and understand it better now. Gene was a competitor. He knew all about odds, and they were against him. But from that summer through the following February, he continued to attend screenings and do the show. He was often in his seat at Bulls games. What he went through, only Marlene knew. He spoke to his family about his illness, but to no one else, not even his best friends. He was unhappy when the Tribune ran an item saying his recovery was "on schedule." He asked, "What schedule? Whose schedule?"
Before his final shows, the studio was cleared so that his nephew could help him walk onto the set and take his seat. No mention was made of his illness. He taped his last program a week or two before his death. His pain must have been unimaginable. But he continued to do his job, and I never admired him more. Our eyes would meet, unspoken words were between us, but we never spoke openly about his problems or his prognosis. That's how he wanted it, and that was his right. In a way, we had that our talk on that night in Cambridge. We talked about what mattered.

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