With the news of his death comes a slew of information about the man that I simply had no idea about: that he was a civil rights worker back in the 60s and knew Martin Luther King, Jr. personally; that he wrote jokes for Robert Kennedy and was at the Ambassador the night RFK was killed; that he and Gene Wilder started Gilda's Club, a center for cancer survivors (right next the NYC's Film Forum); that he was nominated for a Tony Award for writing the book of the musical The First, about Jackie Robinson; that after being diagnosed with cancer he became a tireless advocate for cancer reasearch and awareness. I knew of the book he wrote for his young son (born just as he finished his cheomterapy treatments), Lessons For Dylan and that he battled cancer, but the depth of Siegel's life I had no idea about until just now, after his death. The saying goes that it's not how long you live but rather how much life you put into your time, and while I'm sure that Joel Siegel would have appreciated some more time, the guy really did a hell of a lot living.
Siegel's story is inspriational in a lot of ways, not just for all his accomplishments, but because he swam against the common perception of what a film critic is, that of a person who does nothing but sit in the dark all day and then bitch about what he sees. In fact, you might even wonder why, with all of his accomplishments prior to becoming a critic he would even want to be one, but for about 30 years he stayed with it and at the same time living a life that had a lot of ups and a lot of downs but still had a lot going on. I never formerly met the guy, but I would see him at screenings in NYC from time to time (not at the infamous CLERKS II one, though) and think to myself, "That's the guy I used to watch on TV growing up". Now I wished I had stopped to chat with him once or twice because it turns out that reviewing movies was actually the least interesting thing about him. Here was a guy who could tell you about some important moments in history that he witnessed first hand, some important work he was doing on behalf of cancer awareness, and he could talk movies. As his passing proves, you've got to take these opportunities as life presents them to you because they may never come again.
Farewell, Joel Siegel.