ebert_blogYou know Roger Ebert as a film critic, one of the best in the business.

But on August 25, Roger Ebert came out to the world as a recovering alcoholic in his blog in the Chicago Sun-Times called “Roger Ebert’s Journal.” After 30 years of sobriety and an operation that left him physically unable to drink, he felt ready to go to step #12 of AA and share his story in order to help others. Judging from the response, he is doing just that!

The essay contains a brief history of AA itself and of Bill W., the man who founded the self-organizing “organization.” But the missing link between Ebert and AA was a wonderful doctor, “wise old Dr. Jakob Schlichter.” Reading about a doctor who took an hour with each patient and who offered homilies about aspirin being the only drug which we know really works, who distinguished depression from manic-depression by giving him an appetitie test with grapefruit sections, who suggested AA, but asked for monthly updates from his patient–all this filled me with great nostalgia for the good old days of American medicine. In the midst of HMO’s, nasty fights between the right and the left in politics, insurance companies that drown both doctors and patients in paperwork and pour millions into protecting their profits, I want Roger Ebert’s kind of family doctor and the uncomplicated system we used to have in this country and that other countries enjoy more completely than we do now! Not only did the wise doctor’s medical prescriptions work in Ebert’s case, but they were also very inexpensive.

Roger Ebert’s memoir essay has touched thousands of lives and initiated a deluge of comments–1201 of them by this time! The comments include many long, revelatory essays from the alcohol experiences of readers. Many are from recovering alcoholics; some are from heavy drinkers who want to get help. Amazingly, very few of them are critical or cynical.

Here is a link to the full Ebert blog post, including three movie clips (The Long Weekend, The Days of Wine and Roses, and Clean and Sober), a list of AA locations, a diagnostic quiz for drinkers who think they might be alcoholic, and all 1201 comments.

And here’s an exchange between Ebert and a commenter that illustrates why I chose to highlight the essay in a blog about memoir:

Mr. Ebert, as a fan of yours for as long as I’ve loved film, I get the sense that this post has been a long time coming. There’ve been subtle hints in many of your reviews, but this post lays the issue to rest. And, thinking back on all your blog entries, it seems like you’re trying to get everything out, saying what you feel needs to be said before you go. I very much hope I’m wrong.

Ebert: I don’t expect to go anytime soon, but other than that, you’re right.

Great memoir comes from just this kind of boiled-down experience.  Wordsworth and Coleridge called it emotion recollected in tranquility. A reader can sense when it happens, and so can the writer.

Passionate, controlled, honesty found in this essay jumps from the heart of the writer to the heart of the reader, who hears the ring of truth.  What more can any writer or any reader ask of language?

Ebert’s essay can save lives and deserves to go viral. (By hitting the share button in this blog, you can email it, send it to FB, Twitter or other social media sites). You can do the same by going to the original essay and hitting the share button there.

Shirley Showalter


  1. Gutsywriter on September 21, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    Thanks Shirley for always sharing new and interesting memoir and essays with your audience. I can't believe the number of responses he received. Shows how he touched the public. Yes, I agree with you about Doctors. So sad things have changed in the U.S. regarding medicine.

  2. Chelsea on September 27, 2009 at 1:08 am

    Very powerful story. I have attended some open AA meetings and found them amazing. It is a really profound and powerful organization and philosophy. You might consider going to an open meeting sometime. It might be an interesting perspective on love and forgiveness, and they're very open to visitors as long as it's an open meeting.

  3. uxirotologyk on September 27, 2009 at 10:05 pm
  4. shirleyhs on October 5, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    You're very welcome, Sonia. I imagine that lots of bloggers picked up this story. I did not know that Ebert had a regular column in the Chicago Sun-Times. His use of film clips makes his column fun to read.

  5. shirleyhs on October 5, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    I have never done this, but I would find it fascinating. I'm told by some folks with relatives in the program that it is the best “church” they have ever attended. Deep, wrenching, spiritual depth. Raw, honest human stories.

Leave a Comment