CHICAGO (CBS SF/AP) – Roger Ebert, the most famous and most popular film reviewer of his time who become the first journalist to win a Pulitzer Prize for movie criticism and, on his long-running TV program, wielded the nation’s most influential thumb, died Thursday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. He was 70.
Ebert had been a film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times since 1967. He had announced on his blog Wednesday that he was undergoing radiation treatment after a recurrence of cancer.
He had no grand theories or special agendas, but millions recognized the chatty, heavy-set man with wavy hair and horn-rimmed glasses. Above all, they followed the thumb – pointing up or down. It was the main logo of the televised shows Ebert co-hosted, first with the late Gene Siskel of the rival Chicago Tribune and – after Siskel’s death in 1999 – with his Sun-Times colleague, Richard Roeper. Although criticized as gimmicky and simplistic, a “two thumbs up” accolade was sure to find its way into the advertising for the movie in question.
“I covered film for a decade in San Francisco. I met him, Roger Ebert, a handful of times at screenings and movie events. Roger was a warm, lovely man who was always kind to fellow critics and film fans. His unbridled passion for and knowledge of film was unrivaled. He loved film as much as life itself. What a very sad loss to the film community.”
- KPIX 5 Eye On The Bay Host, Liam Mayclem
Despite his power with the movie-going public, Ebert wrote in his 2011 autobiography “Life Itself,” that he considered himself “beneath everything else a fan.”
“I have seen untold numbers of movies and forgotten most of them, I hope, but I remember those worth remembering, and they are all on the same shelf in my mind,” Ebert wrote in his 2011 memoir, “Life Itself.”
He was teased for years about his weight, but the jokes stopped abruptly when Ebert lost portions of his jaw and the ability to speak, eat and drink after cancer surgeries in 2006. But he overcame his health problems to resume writing full-time and eventually even returned to television. In addition to his work for the Sun-Times, Ebert became a prolific user of social media, connecting with fans on Facebook and Twitter.
The thumb logo remained the property of Ebert and Siskel’s widow, and in early 2011, Ebert launched his new show, “Ebert Presents At the Movies.” The show had new hosts, but featured Ebert in his own segment, “Roger’s Office.” He used a chin prosthesis and enlisted voice-over guests to read his reviews.
While some called Ebert a brave inspiration, he told The Associated Press in an email in January 2011 that bravery and courage “have little to do with it.”
“You play the cards you’re dealt,” Ebert wrote. “What’s your choice? I have no pain, I enjoy life, and why should I complain?”
Ebert joined the Sun-Times part time in 1966 while pursuing graduate study at the University of Chicago, and got the reviewing job the following year. His reviews were eventually syndicated to several hundred other newspapers, collected in books and repeated on innumerable websites, which would have made him one of the most influential film critics in the nation even without his television fame.
His 1975 Pulitzer for distinguished criticism was the first, and one of only three, given to a film reviewer since the category was created in 1970. In 2005, he received another honor when he became the first critic to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Ebert’s breezy and quotable style, as well as his knowledge of film technique and the business side of the industry, made him an almost instant success.
He soon began doing interviews and profiles of notable actors and directors in addition to his film reviews – celebrating such legends as Alfred Hitchcock, John Wayne and Robert Mitchum and offering words of encouragement for then-newcomer Martin Scorsese.
In 1969, he took a leave of absence from the Sun-Times to write the screenplay for “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.” The movie got an “X” rating and became somewhat of a cult film.
Ebert’s television career began the year he won the Pulitzer, first on WTTW-TV, the Chicago PBS station, then nationwide on PBS and later on several commercial syndication services. Ebert and Siskel even trademarked the “two thumbs up” phrase.
And while the pair may have sparred on air, they were close off camera. Siskel’s daughters were flower girls when Ebert married his wife, Chaz, in 1992.
“He’s in my mind almost every day,” Ebert wrote in his autobiography. “He became less like a friend than like a brother.”
Ebert was also an author, writing more than 20 books that included two volumes of essays on classic movies and the popular “I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie,” a collection of some of his most scathing reviews.
The son of a union electrician who worked at the University of Illinois’ Urbana-Champaign campus, Roger Joseph Ebert was born in Urbana on June 18, 1942. The love of journalism, as well as of movies, came early. Ebert covered high school sports for a local paper at age 15 while also writing and editing his own science fiction fan magazine.
He attended the university and was editor of the student newspaper. After his graduation in 1964, he spent a year on scholarship at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and then began work toward a doctorate in English at the University of Chicago.
Ebert’s hometown embraced the film critic, hosting the annual Ebertfest film festival and placing a plaque at his childhood home.
Ebert also was embraced online in the years after he lost his physical voice. He kept up a Facebook page, a Twitter account with nearly 600,000 followers and a blog, Roger Ebert’s Journal.
The Internet was where he forged relationships with his readers, posting links to stories he found interesting and writing long pieces on varied topics, not just film criticism. He interacted with readers in the comments sections and liked to post old black-and-white photos of Hollywood stars and ask readers to guess who they were.
“My blog became my voice, my outlet, my `social media’ in a way I couldn’t have dreamed of,” Ebert wrote in his memoir. “Most people choose to write a blog. I needed to.”
Ebert wrote in 2010 that he did not fear death because he didn’t believe there was anything “on the other side of death to fear.”
“I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state,” he wrote. “I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting.”
Aguirre, Wrath of God (Herzog)
Apocalypse Now (Coppola)
Citizen Kane (Welles)
La Dolce Vita (Fellini)
The General (Keaton)
Raging Bull (Scorsese)
2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick)
Tokyo Story (Ozu)
The Tree of Life (Malick)
"The movies won't be the same without Roger." —President Obama—
Barack Obama (@BarackObama) April 04, 2013
Roger and Gene together again. End of an era.—
Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah) April 04, 2013
Sad to hear about the passing of Roger Ebert, he was a grand man & in my opinion the dean of American film critics-he will be sorely missed—
Larry King (@kingsthings) April 04, 2013
Goodbye Roger Ebert, we had fun. The balcony is closed.—
Steve Martin (@SteveMartinToGo) April 04, 2013
A profound loss for anyone who has ever loved going to the movies. My heart goes out to Chaz and the city of Chicago. Just heartbroken.—
Jason Reitman (@JasonReitman) April 04, 2013
So sad to read passing of Roger Ebert. He will forever be watching movies with Gene Siskel. Thumbs up to him!—
Marlee Matlin (@MarleeMatlin) April 04, 2013
Rest in peace, Roger Ebert! You were an inspiration.—
Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) April 04, 2013
Just heard about the death of Roger Ebert. He was a nice, nice man. I truly liked him – I'm very sad.—
Joan Rivers (@Joan_Rivers) April 04, 2013
Shocked and truly, deeply saddened at the loss of the great Roger Ebert. A legend. His voice will be missed.—
Anna Kendrick (@AnnaKendrick47) April 04, 2013
Roger Ebert was an excellent writer, a gifted artist, and as nice a guy as you'll ever meet. Sad he's gone.—
Jimmy Kimmel (@jimmykimmel) April 04, 2013
R.I.P. Roger Ebert. It was a privilege to interact with you. Thank you for the support, the criticism, and the true love for the movies.—
Diablo Cody (@diablocody) April 04, 2013
Sad to hear about Roger Ebert passing away. RIP kind sir. I give your life two enthusiastic 👍 👍—
Dane Cook (@DaneCook) April 04, 2013
Roger Ebert. Millions of thumbs up for you. RIP—
Michael Moore (@MMFlint) April 04, 2013
Roger Ebert R.I.P. See you at the movies.—
Michael Ian Black (@michaelianblack) April 04, 2013
RIP Roger Ebert. Say hi to Gene for us.—
Orlando Jones (@TheOrlandoJones) April 04, 2013
As a huge film fan (and amateur critic) I'm sad about the passing of Roger Ebert. He brought film criticism and discussion to the people._b—
Silversun Pickups (@SSPU) April 04, 2013
Thanks Mr. Ebert.—
Steve Carell (@SteveCarell) April 04, 2013
In 1994 Roger Ebert wrote, "Elijah Wood has emerged, I believe, as the most talented actor, in his age group, in Hollywood history."—
Elijah Wood Movies (@MovieElijahWood) April 04, 2013
Roger Ebert told me in '11 (via text/voice decoder) that he wasn't bitter, kept busy, loved job… only bitter when he watched a lousy film.—
Brooke Anderson (@BrookeAnderson) April 04, 2013
There is an empty seat in the theater that no-one else will fill. RIP Roger Ebert.—
Diane Warren (@Diane_Warren) April 04, 2013
RIP film critic Roger Ebert. My prayers go out to his family & friends…..—
Shannon Elizabeth (@ShannonElizab) April 04, 2013
RIP Roger Ebert. Attention must be paid. And it was.—
Brent Spiner (@BrentSpiner) April 04, 2013
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