Roger Ebert Had Heart ‘Big Enough To Accept, Love All’

The line started at 3:30 a.m.

More than six hours before Roger Ebert's funeral, a mourner stood outside Holy Name Cathedral to ensure a spot at the service that's expected to draw hundreds if not thousands.

"I felt a passion to be here," said Matt Fagerholm, the first to arrive. "I want to honor this man. He meant so much to me. He meant so much to all of my colleagues and the Film Critic Society in Chicago and every person who has a passion for film. I wanted to be here to honor him."

About 100 people lined up by 9 a.m. Jason Nebergall, who arrived at 7:30 a.m., said he read Ebert's reviews for the past 20 years.

"Through his reviews and blog articles, I got to know him in a way, and I miss him and feel his loss deeply," Nebergall said.

Funeral services began at 10 a.m. for the iconic movie critic, who passed away Thursday at the age of 70.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Gov. Pat Quinn and activist Jonathan Jackson spoke in his honor. Emanuel said Ebert found inspiration in Chicago and "was able to bring the spirit of American film alive."

"Whether or not we knew Roger, we knew he loved Chicago and Chicago loved Roger."

Quinn said Ebert "had a servant's heart." Ending his speech with "thumbs up!" he said, "We thank God for his purposeful life."

Jackson said Ebert "respected the imagination of people," calling him "a soldier with a pen" because of how he respected the African-American community. Jackson read a comment from Spike Lee, who called Ebert "a champion of my work and other black filmmakers."

Ebert's wife, Chaz Hammelsmith, said she almost didn't speak but knew Ebert would want to thank everyone for coming  "He had a heart big enough to accept and love all," she said.

Ebert, the Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic and television personality who made famous the thumbs-up, thumbs-down reviewing style, died last week after a years-long battle with cancer.

His death came two days after he marked his 46th anniversary of becoming the Chicago Sun-Times' movie reviewer with a note on his website in which he vowed to keep working through a recurrence of cancer.

Millions of fans devoured his newspaper reviews, watched his groundbreaking television show and followed his blog. To many of those fans, he'll be the guy who shared their love of movies, and helped them understand how they could enrich their lives.

"He had a great generosity of spirit. He was generous in size, generous in style, and he had a generous heart," said Thea Flaum, the producer who first paired Ebert and Gene Siskel. "He was kind and thoughtful, he was always eager to look at the work of young new filmmakers and support what they were doing."

Siskel and Ebert's show became the highest-rated show in public television, and as they say in the movies, a star was born. Ebert quickly became a household name and many were rooting for him as he battled cancer.

The battle may be over, but Chicagoans will never forget.

"I want to pay my respects to a man I never met but feel I've known a long time," mourner Edward Cooper said before Ebert's funeral.

In lieu of flowers, mourners who wish to show support are asked to send donations to The Ebert Foundation, a nonprofit that supports arts and education programs.

A memorial tribute is also planned for 6 p.m. Thursday at the Chicago Theatre. The memorial is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. To reserve a seat, call 773-528-7700 or email

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