R.I.P. Jeff Vice

(In memory of my friend Jeff Vice, who died Monday after a massive asthma attack and heart failure.)

In 1999, when I started reviewing movies regularly for the Daily Herald in Provo, it was Jeff Vice of the Deseret News in Salt Lake City who showed me the ropes. He gave me publicists’ contact information and helped me get on the right lists. He gladly and patiently let me coordinate my schedule with his, to make sure I hadn’t missed any screening announcements. I felt intimidated to be joining an already established group of Utah critics — Jeff; Sean Means at the Salt Lake Tribune; Scott Renshaw at City Weekly; Steve Salles at the Ogden Standard-Examiner — but Jeff made me feel welcome.

Over the next six years, this core group of us and a handful of others (like Audrey Rock at the Tooele paper; Tony Toscano of TV; Jeremy Mathews at the University of Utah paper) must have watched more than a thousand movies together at various theaters in Salt Lake. I’d heard of cities where the critics were merely civil to each other (at best), but it wasn’t like that here. Led by Jeff’s earnest friendliness and ever-present smile, we were a group of colleagues who became real friends.

At the evening screenings, which were open to the public so we had to get there early, we’d spend the half-hour before showtime chatting about movies and TV. If it was a Monday, we’d repeat lines from the previous night’s episode of “The Simpsons” to each other. If I missed a screening of a movie that turned out to be bad, Jeff would paraphrase “Office Space” and tell me, “Oh, I wouldn’t say you were missing it….” We enjoyed the good movies as a group, endured the disasters together. We socialized outside of “work.” I spent more time in the company of my fellow critics than I did with my actual co-workers at the newspaper I wrote for.

I moved to Portland in 2005. For the next couple years, whenever I’d be back in Utah for something, Jeff would email the gang and arrange for us all to have dinner. It was a sweet, thoughtful thing to do — and Jeff did sweet, thoughtful things all the time. He was generous and kind, an enthusiastic geek with a great big ol’ heart. I called him J-Dawg and he called me E-Roc.

We weren’t in touch very much the last few years, though we recently reconnected on Twitter and Facebook. I actually had a dream about him a couple nights before he died. In the dream, I was back in Salt Lake City and I ran into Jeff in a parking lot, where we stood and chatted about how I was turning 40 this year. In real life, when Jeff turned 40, someone Photoshopped his face onto the poster for “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” In my dream, Jeff brought this up and joked about doing it for me. We laughed and laughed, and it felt like old times. Even though it wasn’t real, I’m glad I had this last fond memory of Jeff before he died.

My condolences to his family, his girlfriend, and the people who were lucky enough to be working with him when he died. I know the Utah film and geek communities are devastated today. R.I.P., old friend.

(To my great dismay, I don’t seem to have any pictures of me and Jeff together. If anyone reading this does have such a picture, please send it my way.)