Film critic turned English teacher James Rocchi died Sunday after suffering an early-morning heart attack. He was 53.
Rocchi’s passing was first reported by fellow critic Scott Weinberg on Twitter, who was told the news by Rocchi’s wife, Amazon publicist Arianne Rocchi.
“[I] just spoke with James’ wife,” Weinberg wrote. “he checked himself into the hopsital (sic) with chest pains last night. had a heart attack at 4am and nothing could be done. 53 years old. I am heartbroken, and angry, and devastated. one of the best people I’ve ever known.”
Rocchi began freelance writing in 1996 and, according to LinkedIn, was hired at MSN as an on-camera reporter and film critic in 2008, a position that made him a familiar face at press junkets and film festivals.
Rocchi’s towering height, dapper fashion sense, booming voice and unfailingly good humor (and manners) made him a standout among entertainment writers. However, the strain of turning puffy celebrity interviews into substantial pieces and covering an increasingly corporatized entertainment landscape led him to turn away from journalism in 2015. One of his final pieces was a still-quoted examination of what Rocchi called “The Marvel-Industrial Complex.”
Rocchi wrote for many outlets over the course of his career, including Netflix (he was their in-house critic when they had such a position), Indiewire, The Guardian, the Los Angeles Times and BBC.com, among many others. He wrote film reviews for TheWrap in 2014 and 2015, his final outlet before leaving the media, first to launch a venture as a commercial baker and then as an English teacher for the Los Angeles Unified School District, where he worked for the last five years.
Film Twitter erupted Sunday with heartfelt and affectionate reminiscences of Rocchi, remembering his wit and talent, his sartorial sense, his generosity to young and up-and-coming entertainment writers, and his absolute (but always polite) fury aimed at anyone who tried to use their cell phone during a film screening.
just spoke with James' wife. he checked himself into the hopsital with chest pains last night. had a heart attack at 4am and nothing could be done. 53 years old. I am heartbroken, and angry, and devastated. one of the best people I've ever known.
— Scott Weinberg (@scottEmovienerd) November 28, 2021
I think of him calling me on my birthday each year to sing "Happy Birthday" because he didn't believe in social media messages. So he'd literally call me and sing to me. I think of him having 0 problems screaming at someone in a movie theater for having their phones on…
— Germain Lussier (@GermainLussier) November 28, 2021
How to be a friend, according to the great James Rocchi:
*Call your friend every birthday and sing loudly into the phone
*Celebrate your friend's good news with fresh-baked blondies
*Be blunt but forgiving when your friend screws up
Thank you for the lessons, old friend
— Amy Nicholson (@TheAmyNicholson) November 28, 2021
James Rocchi – funny, smart, kind, and cared about many things that many didn’t, including, of course, politeness. I cherish the memory of sitting next to him as he bellowed at someone to put away their phone during the “Buck” SxSW screening. Of course he said “please.” RIP.
— Michael Tritter (@tritter) November 28, 2021
I owe a tremendous amount to him, but I’m sure he’d balk at that assertion, and say something like, “Oh, Doctor, it was all you, utterly my pleasure even to remotely assist.” He will be so very missed.
— Kate Erbland (@katerbland) November 28, 2021
James Rocchi wore a hat primarily so he could tip it politely to people. "Pardon me, miss, could I have a copy of the press notes? [tip of hat] Thank you very kindly." He could also be devastatingly indignant to those who deserved it, a real "I said GOOD DAY, SIR!" kind of guy.
— Eric D. Snider (@EricDSnider) November 28, 2021
This is heartbreaking. A wonderful wit, and I’ll never forget one of his filmmaking axioms: “Just because anything’s possible, doesn’t mean everything’s advisable.” RIP indeed.
— Michael Phillips (@phillipstribune) November 28, 2021
Can't believe this. I'll never forget James' kindness, his style, his deep sense of principle or his great boisterous voice, ringing out with laughter at screenings and with such crystalline intelligence at our LAFCA mtgs. And really, truly, his kindness. A devastating loss. https://t.co/jLb0xQOIKD
— Justin Chang (@JustinCChang) November 28, 2021
It’s moving to see all these loving tributes to James Rocchi. I wonder if he had any idea of his impact? Probably not. So much abt extending a helping hand. For me too. Cannes 2009, my first w my sxsw hat on, I was totally overwhelmed & confused. He was a kind oasis & guide.
— Janet Pierson (@JanetPierson) November 28, 2021
I am heartbroken at the news of James Rocchi’s passing. What a wonderful, kind, funny, brilliant, sweet, humble man. I can’t believe I will never again hear that beautiful booming voice calling out “Well hello, Ms Lynskey!” I am in shock. All my love to Arianne & his closest.
— Melanie Lynskey (@melanielynskey) November 28, 2021