Film Critic Roger Ebert Dead at 70

Pulitzer Prize-winning critic diagnosed with cancer in 2002

By Don Moseley and Carol Marin
|  Thursday, Apr 4, 2013  |  Updated 10:05 PM CDT
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Roger Ebert's four-star life began June 18, 1942 in Urbana, Ill. Few people have had more impact on the film industry than the Pulitzer Prize winning critic. Carol Marin reports.

Roger Ebert's four-star life began June 18, 1942 in Urbana, Ill. Few people have had more impact on the film industry than the Pulitzer Prize winning critic. Carol Marin reports.

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Roger Ebert, the longtime film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, died Thursday, the newspaper reported.

His passing comes just one day after publishing a note on his website that he would be scaling back work as he continued his battle with cancer. He was 70 years old.

"We were getting ready to go home today for hospice care, when he looked at us, smiled, and passed away," his wife, Chaz Ebert, said in a statement. "No struggle, no pain, just a quiet, dignified transition."

Ebert's four-star life began June 18, 1942 in Urbana, Ill. Few people have had more impact on the film industry than the Pulitzer Prize winning critic.

A simple thumbs up -- or thumbs down -- became the legendary trademark of Ebert and his long time movie partner, Gene Siskel.
  
In his heart of hearts, Ebert was a newspaper guy, long before he achieved fame and millions of devoted television followers.

As a child he wrote and published the Washington Street News. He delivered it to his neighbors along Washington Street in Urbana.

From high school and on to college, Ebert wrote. He tackled sports, news, columns and obituaries. It mattered not.

At the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, he was the Daily Illini‘s editor in chief.

Ebert joined the Chicago Sun-Times in 1966. Six months later he was reviewing movies. Nine years after that, he won the Pulitzer Prize, the first film critic to win journalism’s most coveted award.

The first movie Ebert saw was the Marx brothers' "A Day at the Races." Thousands more would follow. As his newspaper career flourished something happened that would change his professional life: television.

In 1975 Ebert and Siskel, who wrote for the Chicago Tribune, brought their movie reviews to the small screen in "Opening Soon At A Theatre Near You."

The name was changed to "Sneak Previews" in 1978 and at its height it was seen in 180 public television markets and was, according to Television Week, "the highest-rated entertainment show in the history of public broadcasting."

Siskel and Ebert fought and argued like brothers. It was part of the charm. But when Siskel died of cancer 1999, Ebert wept.

"I miss him all the time," he said at the time.

The program continued with Richard Roeper, but like a good film an unexpected twist was about to occur: Ebert was diagnosed with thyroid and salivary gland cancer. 

A 2006 operation left him speechless and a portion of his chin was removed.

Undaunted, Ebert wore his cancer like a Red Badge of Courage, never shirking from public view, often accompanied by his wife Chaz.

He continued to write.

He began to tweet, gathering more than 800,000 followers.   

For more than five decades, Ebert’s reviews were weekly reading in as many as 250 papers across the country.

He earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, ensuring his memory among the immortal Hollywood legends he wrote about.

Now, as Roger Ebert might say, the script is complete.

And the balcony is closed.

As the final chapter of his life gently fades to black.

Producer Recalls Pairing Siskel & Ebert
Thea Flaum was the original producer and creator of what would become, according to Television Week, "the highest-rated entertainment show in the history of public broadcasting."

 

Roeper on Ebert, His Legacy
Richard Roeper joined Roger Ebert on the popular film review show in 2000.

 

Flashback to 2010: Ebert and Roeper Discontinue Show

Statement from Roger Ebert's wife, Chaz Ebert:

“I am devastated by the loss of my love, Roger — my husband, my friend, my confidante and oh-so-brilliant partner of over 20 years. He fought a courageous fight. I’ve lost the love of my life, and the world has lost a visionary and a creative and generous spirit who touched so many people all over the world. We had a lovely, lovely life together, more beautiful and epic than a movie. It had its highs and the lows, but was always experienced with good humor, grace and a deep abiding love for each other.

Roger was a beloved husband, stepfather to Sonia and Jay, and grandfather to Raven, Emil, Mark and Joseph. Just yesterday he was saying how his grandchildren were ‘the best things in my life.’ He was happy and radiating satisfaction over the outpouring of responses to his blog about his 46th year as a film critic. But he was also getting tired of his fight with cancer, and said if this takes him, he has lived a great and full life.

We were getting ready to go home today for hospice care, when he looked at us, smiled, and passed away. No struggle, no pain, just a quiet, dignified transition.

We are touched by all the kindness and the outpouring of love we’ve received. And I want to echo what Roger said in his last blog, thank you for going on this journey with us.

Statement from Barbara Scharres, Director of Programming at the Gene Siskel Film Center:

"Roger Ebert was one-of-a-kind.  He loved movies so much that he wanted everyone else to love them too.  This love was at the very core of his work, and he brought the rewards and joy of thinking about movies and talking and debating about movies to millions of people around the world.  This is his legacy—he made movies matter in a new way.
 
Roger was as generous in his criticism as he was astute.  His championing of American independents and other young filmmakers is well known.  He often used the power of his fame to focus attention on new talent; a review from Roger gave a welcome boost to many a young career.
 
He was the first film critic to recognize and fully utilize the power of social media.  He took dialogue about the movies he loved global, yet another way Roger found to fold others into film culture through his infectious enthusiasm.
 
Roger’s love for his beloved wife Chaz was a cornerstone of his life.  Roger and Chaz were long the royal couple of any film festival.  He was never happier than when she was next to him.
 
We at the Gene Siskel Film Center mourn along with Roger’s readers everywhere.  Our deepest sympathy goes to heroic Chaz; to all their extended family; to Roger’s longtime Sun-Times editor Laura Emerick; and to Roger’s most loyal assistant Carol Iwata.”

Statement from the Chicago Sun-Times:

"We are saddened to share the news that our longtime colleague Roger Ebert has died. He was 70. Roger has been writing for the Chicago Sun-Times for 46 years. The long relationship between Roger and his Sun-Times family speaks volumes about Roger’s commitment to his craft and to his fans around the world. Roger’s reviews were highly anticipated by readers and the film community. Film commentary was only one of several gifts. He was a reporter first, in every aspect of his craft. He could write as eloquently about world affairs as he could on the upcoming blockbuster. Roger will be missed not only by the Sun-Times family, but by the journalism and film communities. Our thoughts are with Roger’s wife, Chaz, and their family during this time."

Statement from Gov. Pat Quinn:

“I was very saddened to hear today that my good friend Roger Ebert has passed away. I – along with the people of Illinois – offer condolences to his wife Chaz, with whom I had the privilege of spending some time just last week.

Even in recent years when illness robbed him of his ability to speak, the mere act of raising his thumb brought auditoriums full of people to their feet in applause. One of my best memories was getting a ‘thumbs-up’ from Roger in 2011 when I proclaimed “Roger Ebert Day” at Ebertfest in Champaign.

Roger Ebert was Everyman with a cinematographer’s eye and an artist’s passion. His unique gift was the ability to communicate with everyday people about all kinds of movies and ultimately, the real values of life. He was one of our best-known and most respected journalists, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize as a Chicago Sun-Times film critic, and a proud and generous graduate of the University of Illinois where he began his journalism career at the Daily Illini.

The whole state joins me in mourning his passing. Roger Ebert was a great man. No doubt Gene Siskel is saving him a seat in the balcony upstairs."

Statement from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel:

"Our whole city learned with sadness today of the passing of Roger Ebert, whose name was synonymous with two things: the movies and Chicago.  In a Pulitzer Prize winning career that spanned more than four decades, thousands of reviews and countless acts of generosity to others, Roger championed Chicago as a center for filmmaking and critiques.  With a knowledge of his subject as deep as his love for his wife Chaz, Roger Ebert will be remembered for the strength of his work, respected for his courage in the face of illness, and revered for his contribution to filmmaking and to our city.  The final reel of his life may have run through to the end, but his memory will never fade."

Statement from Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown:

"I am deeply saddened by the loss of Chicago Sun-Times, award winning film critic Roger Ebert.  For 46 years, Roger was a Chicago icon who went to the movies and told us about it.   He captured our attention, each week with his terrific reviews in the paper and on television.  Through it all you could see that he was simply a nice guy who loved to go to the movies and then told us about it.  My deepest sympathy goes out to his lovely wife Chaz Ebert.   I will always remember his smile and his signature statement “See you at the movies."

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