Legendary Film Critic Roger Ebert Dead at 70
Roger Ebert, the longtime film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, died this Thursday. 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.”
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.
Roger Joseph Ebert was born on 18 June 1942, in Urbana, Illinois, and was an American journalist, film critic, and screenwriter. He was a film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death. In 1975, he was the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. As of 2010, his columns were syndicated to more than 200 newspapers in the United States and abroad. Ebert also published more than 20 books and dozens of collections of reviews.
Ebert and rival critic Gene Siskel helped popularize nationally televised film reviewing when they co-hosted the PBS show “Sneak Previews”, followed by several variously named “At the Movies” programs. The two verbally sparred and traded humorous barbs while discussing films. They created and trademarked the phrase “Two Thumbs Up”, used when both hosts gave the same film a positive review. After Siskel died in 1999, Ebert began co-hosting with Richard Roeper. In 1999, he launched his own annual film festival called Ebertfest. In 2005, Ebert became the first film critic to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
When post-surgical complications related to thyroid cancer left him unable to speak from 2006 on, he gained a sizable following online. Ebert died on April 4, 2013, after an 11-year battle with cancer.
Neil Steinberg of the Chicago Sun-Times said Ebert “was without question the nation’s most prominent and influential film critic”, Tom Van Riper of Forbes described him as “the most powerful pundit in America”, and Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times called him “the best known film critic in America”.
A Life that would give a “Thumbs Up” movie
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.
When film critic Roger Ebert lost his lower jaw to cancer, he lost the ability to eat and speak. But he did not lose his voice. In a moving talk from TED2011, Ebert and his wife, Chaz, with friends Dean Ornish and John Hunter, come together to tell his remarkable story.