As a journalist, you tend to shun anything that honors your competitors - at least in public.
Today, it's a different story.
Jeff Michael Vice, a fellow film critic and colleague passed away yesterday after a sudden asthma attack that sent him into a coma from which he would never awaken.
I have attended hundreds of movie screenings with Jeff, who was always generous in sharing a little background and angles about the movies and artists we covered together.
I met Jeff about 7 years ago through a mutual friend. We went Frisbee-golfing in Murray, and afterward, had a great conversation about movies and comic books, just prior to the Marvel movie revolution that commenced with the release of Iron Man.
It was a bit ironic to discover that Jeff grew up only a few miles from me and our mutual friend. We had probably unknowingly attended the same movies at the same theaters as teenaged boys. Most of those movies had a lot to do with our geeky ambitions; countless Star Wars (the original one in which Han Solo fires first) viewings (we wore our numbers with pride - "20 times!"), the Star Trek films, Superman and others. All three of us probably sat in Payson's old Huish Theater on any given Saturday afternoon, taking in yet another Wrath of Khan showing.
Later, Jeff and other members of the Utah Film Critics Association welcomed me into their elite club, and I got to know him a little more. That was right after Jeff's employer of 21 years, the Deseret News (he later affectionately referred to it as "The Voldemort News") let him go. Rather than wallow in the despair of the unemployed, Jeff relished the opportunity to try new things, spread his critical wings and delve deeper into his geekdom.
Jeff's mind was a treasure trove of geeky information. He was an encyclopedia of comic book lore, and could immediately explain in detail the particular nuances between a Matt Fraction or Ed Brubaker comic book. His knowledge of such vast amounts of geeky information was surpassed only by his gracious ability to share his gift with others.
I sat near Jeff during a screening of X-Men: Days of Future Past last week. It was one of the last films he reviewed, and it was my pleasure to watch and listen to him gush about the latest offering in his milieu; he was pleased to live in a day when filmmakers could interpret the comic book images and stories he loved into cinematic marvels. He was truly happy.
Like hundreds and perhaps thousands of others who knew him or consumed his honest critique - I am truly sad today. The thought of seeing an empty seat at the next critic screening makes the tears flow. I can't claim to be one of Jeff's best friends; I'm not even close the band of brothers and sisters he socialized and lived with. It is for them that my heart feels like it has been crushed today.
So, to Jeff Michael Vice, as a man and fellow critic, I give you four out of four stars.
In my heart, there will always be an empty seat near me in the theater.
* Note: an account has been set up to help Jeff's family pay for funeral expenses. Donations can be made through PayPal, the email address is email@example.com.