A Scene From Jeff’s Final Act

Jeff Shannon, Movie Critic: 1961-2013
Jeff Shannon, a Seattle-based movie critic and journalist, died Dec. 20, 2013 in Edmonds, Wash., due to complications from pneumonia. He was 52.

A Seattle native, Shannon became a quadriplegic in 1979 after a diving accident in Hawaii. He studied film history at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, before beginning his career as a film reviewer and entertainment reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 1985. He has been a movie critic for The Seattle Times since 1992.

Shannon wrote and contributed to articles about disability-related issues for  NEW MOBILITY magazine. Tim Gilmer, NM editor, who worked with Shannon for more than a decade, says he was the consummate expert when writing about disability portrayals in the media with an unbiased view.

“He bent over backwards to make sure that our readers knew not only what we were saying about a topic but what the non-disabled readers would say about a topic,” says Gilmer.  “He wanted the full truth to be known.”

His 2005 review of Million Dollar Baby and interview with director Clint Eastwood in NM brought Shannon national recognition. In it Shannon noted the concern of the disability community but also paid homage to the powerful and masterful storytelling of Eastwood. The publicity of the piece led to a lengthy professional relationship with the late Roger Ebert.
Matt Zoller Seitz, editor-in-chief of RogerEbert.com, credits Shannon with making unique contributions to the site. “He was a gifted writer and fiercely independent man, and his aesthetic opinions often intertwined with his life experience in ways that made him unique, and uniquely important.”


A Scene From Jeff’s Final Act

[Editor: The following is an excerpt from the personal reflections of Jeff Shannon’s sister, Susan, on the day of her brother’s passing. In her narrative, she has just communicated with Jeff for the last time, and she knows that he intends to have his ventilator disconnected. She was in the midst of doing chaplaincy work with inmates at San Quentin prison.]
Jeff Shannon and his sister

I stood there in the parking lot, completely pulled apart at what was happening. I wanted to be sitting in silence when Jeff’s spirit departed.

How could I go back into the prison after this? Well, for one thing, Jeff would want me to. For another, I had to tell my supervisor that I would be leaving and ask him to cover my afternoon group.

Many of the inmates I work with on Fridays already knew what was going on with Jeff. They all knew he was the inspiration for so much of my life, especially during the years I lost normal use of my arms and hands. Jeff’s story, courage and determination had also come up during our discussions about  the different kinds of prison that people experience on an inner and outer level — prison is not just about living in a cage with bars.

As I walked down the yard towards the room where our group was meeting, I realized that even this is a gift of Jeff’s — that I can walk through this prison where hundreds, thousands of men have had the experience of losing a brother, but have not had the gift I just had of a last interaction. My heart swelled, along with my eyes.

Thank you, Jeff, as you are ready to soar, for adding yet another layer of compassion for these men I work with.

When I walked in the room, 35 men, mostly doing life sentences in prison — men representing every age, culture and color, men who had just graduated from a year-long grueling group based on deep, emotional healing and transformation of anger — read my face in unison and spontaneously circled up around me. One by one they shared their tears, praying for Jeff’s swift flight, freedom, joy, and wishing my family and me strength and care. I was electrified by this moment of receiving the blessings of 35 brothers joining my little brother’s spirit as it dropped its finished form.

As I walked out of the room, one of the men whose brother was brutally murdered just a month ago, grasped my hands and pledged his strength and prayers for my family and me. Another man who paroles in January after 35 years in prison, and who hopes to see his brother one last time (he is now in the ICU and dying), asked for the three of us to circle up … in “a prayer for the passing of all our brothers.” We stood there together, a triangle of strength, weakness and intention, as my own brother Jeff untied from his mortal coil, hosting his send-off with the oddity and perfection of loss, as well as the profound connection of all beings.

Jeff would have loved it. Would it have made it into the movie? On Monday, the day Jeff had told me he was sure he qualified legally for the “right to die” status, he said that the only thing he could imagine staying alive for now was to write a screenplay.

Jeff, if your final act is any indication, I say this is already Oscar material.

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