Roger Ebert has been one of the most important figures throughout my entire adolescent and adult life. For seventeen years I turned to him as an educator and a mentor. I have paraphrased him and used many of his essays as the foundation to my own arguments and not a single day has passed that I haven't visited his website.
I happily forked out money to participate in his exclusive online club and have corresponded with him personally from time to time. I often disagreed with his observations and was occasionally infuriated with some of his views (we see Wolf Creek and Blue Velvet VERY differently) but he is wholly responsible for the way I approach and appreciate cinema.
He taught me to judge individual movies on their own merits and to consider intention, demographic and reaction when writing about them. Almost every time I finish watching a film I turn to his website to see how he responded. He was a champion of independent filmmaking (and art) and an avid advocate for advancement in film technology.
Before he lost his voice he offered his time to feature commentaries (Casablanca and Citizen Kane are his best) and hosted film deconstructions to universities (Pulp Fiction and Mulholland Drive being his most famous) as well as interacting with the public on his website. Whenever he was, himself, criticised he was able to respond accordingly. For every opinion he had, he was able to back up with reason. He believed every word he wrote and took the time to revisit films he had previously canned to reexamine his position.... such reviews were often followed up many years later with retrospective re-reviews and/or retractions.
Being the film geek that I am, I feel like I've lost a good friend today. Knowing that Roger will never see another film again saddens me. Not being able to turn to him every day devastates me. For a life lived to it's fullest, Roger Ebert gets two thumbs up... and forever more, the balcony is closed. Thanks mate!