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Originally published January 11, 2014 at 5:20 PM | Page modified January 11, 2014 at 10:33 PM

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Jeff Shannon, respected film critic, advocate for disabled

Film critic and frequent Seattle Times contributor Jeff Shannon endeavored to live a full life, despite a paralyzing injury in his youth. He died Dec. 20, 2013; a service will be held March 16.


Seattle Times arts critic

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Seattle film critic and frequent Seattle Times contributor Jeff Shannon was a convivial straight shooter with an acerbic sense of humor. He would deny he was an optimist.

But older brother Kevin Shannon, writer and manager of Seattle’s Scarecrow Video store, was having none of it. He told his wheelchair-using sibling, “Look, you’ve woken up every day since your accident and always said, ‘I’ll make it, I’ll get through it,’ whatever was going on,” Kevin Shannon recalled. “And if that’s not optimism, what is?”

Jeff Shannon died Dec. 20, 2013, of pneumonia, in Edmonds. He was 52.

All of us who knew and worked with him, and his many friends and colleagues around the country, can attest to his intellect, humor, writing talent and his inspiring tenacity in aiming to live a full, independent life.

At 17, he was a popular Edmonds teenager planning to be an actor. Just two weeks after he graduated from Meadowdale High School, a diving injury in Hawaii left him largely paralyzed from the neck down.

But encouraged by his parents, the late Gerald and Angela Shannon, of Edmonds, he went to Wright State University in Ohio, where he studied film history, theory and criticism and started writing about movies.

Back in Seattle, he became a prolific film reviewer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, then (since 1992) for The Seattle Times.

An impassioned, knowledgeable cinema buff, he drew the admiration of such peers as Roger Ebert for his insightful reviews. He also supported himself as a writer-editor for Microsoft Cinemania and Amazon.com.

As an outspoken advocate for the disabled, he served two terms on the Governor’s Committee on Disability Issues and Employment, and wrote frank, illuminating essays about the physical and social challenges of his condition for several online outlets.

In the piece “Mother Nature Wants to Kill You,” for www.facingdisability.com, he stated that “ for all [paraplegics and quadriplegics], the simple act of survival requires diligent discipline. If you can’t rise to the challenge and accept that responsibility, don’t expect any sympathy when Mother Nature takes you down.”

His 2005 essay for New Mobility magazine on the Clint Eastwood film “Million Dollar Baby” earned him national recognition. The movie’s main character, a young female boxer, loses her will to live after a paralyzing injury. At her urging, her manager helps her commit suicide. Some disability-rights groups protested the ending, saying it devalued the meaningful lives many live with such injuries.

In his multidimensional, evenhanded exploration of his own attitudes toward the film, he suggested it was “seriously flawed and disturbing from a disability perspective, [yet] it’s also true to its characters, rich in humanity, and daring enough to let viewers think, in Eastwood’s words, ‘about the precariousness of life and how we handle it.’ ”

He suggested “Million Dollar Baby” had helped to open a public dialogue about what it means to “choose life,” despite severe physical impairments.

Mr. Shannon definitely chose life for himself. He owned and maintained his own home in Lynnwood, driving to screenings and social events in specially equipped vans. He maintained a wide circle of friends — “Facebook was a godsend for him,” said his brother — and loved a good party.

Traveling was difficult, but a visit to Ireland meant a lot to him, said his brother, as did a journey to Hollywood. After Mr. Shannon interviewed Eastwood about “Million Dollar Baby,” the two stayed in contact. Eastwood cast an actor Mr. Shannon suggested in another film, “Flags of Our Fathers,” and the filmmaker paid Mr. Shannon’s way to Los Angeles to visit the movie set. Later he was invited to read scripts for Eastwood’s production company.

In the last several years, his physical condition and stamina deteriorated, due to intermittent injuries and pulmonary problems common to quadriplegics. Even so, friends and family were shocked when pneumonia swiftly ended his life.

On Dec. 20, Kevin Shannon announced his brother’s death in a Facebook message that ended with these words: “Fly. Run. Be free.”

A celebration of Jeff Shannon’s life will be held on March 16; the location will be announced later on his Facebook page. In addition to his brother, he is survived by his sister, Susan Shannon, of San Anselmo, Calif., niece Donna Hoffman-Cullinan, of Sacramento, Calif.; his sister-in-law Sue Shannon and niece Angela Shannon, both of Seattle; and his stepmother, Sharon Shannon, of Edmonds.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com



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