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Roger Ebert Dies at 70

Legendary film critic died Thursday after battle with cancer

Film critic Roger Ebert was not only the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize, but one of the only critics known to the general public, thanks to his long-running movie review shows such as “Sneak Previews” and  his thumbs-up or down movie reviews. He died Thursday in Chicago of complications from cancer, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. He was 70.

The avuncular champion of movies big and small had been fighting thyroid cancer since 2002, and in the past few years spoke with a voice machine. The latest show to bear his name is the PBS series “Roger Ebert Presents at the Movies,” in which he briefly appears on camera with a prosthetic chin though other critics shoulder reviewing duties.

See Also: Variety’s Justin Chang Remembers Roger Ebert

He appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show in 2010, speaking with a machine that tailored his speech more closely to his natural voice.

He continued reviewing films and kept in the public eye writing on his popular website and tweeting frequently.

Ebert is generally seen as a champion of filmmakers and under-appreciated films, a fair reviewer with a dry wit and occasional quirks who wouldn’t hesitate to sock it to films he considered below par, but never in a mean or vindictive way. At times he reviewed films in the form of stories, poems or songs, just to mix it up.

Ebert became the Chicago-Sun Times film critic in 1967, just a year after he joined the paper as a features writer. He wrote in Variety in 2007, “Film criticism in those days was moving from the age of (Bosley) Crowther to the age of (Pauline) Kael. Junkets and sound bites and protective publicists were not so universal, and I was able to spend a lot of time with interview subjects, who would, in such cases as Lee Marvin, John Wayne, Groucho Marx and Robert Altman, say anything, literally anything, and not care if you quoted them.”

VIDEO: Roger Ebert Through the Years

When Ebert and Gene Siskel helped launch “Sneak Previews” in 1975, it was the first TV show offering film reviews. The various incarnations of the program would go on to be Emmy nommed seven times. His Pulitzer Prize came in 1975 for his Sun-Times reviews during 1974.

Born in Urbana, Ill., he started writing sports for the local paper and articles for sci fi fanzines while still in high school. He graduated the U. of Ill. at Urbana-Champaign, where he was editor of the paper and contributed reviews for films including “La Dolce Vita” and “Bonnie and Clyde,” which he called “a milestone in the history of American movies, a work of truth and brilliance.”

See Also: Hollywood Reacts to Ebert’s Death on Twitter

Ebert also knew about the inside of the movie business, having teamed with sexploitation helmer Russ Meyer to write “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” and “Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens.”

“Sneak Previews” started out on Chicago public broadcasting station WTTW and went national in 1978. In 1982, the pair moved to a syndicated commercial show called “At the Movies With Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert,” and then created “Siskel & Ebert & the Movies” in 1986 with Buena Vista Television. After Siskel died in 1999, the show was renamed “Roger Ebert & the Movies,” and then “At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper” when fellow Chicago Sun-times columnist Richard Roeper joined as co-host. Ebert last appeared on “Ebert & Roeper & the Movies” in 2006, when complications from his operations left him unable to speak.

A range of guest hosts filled in, from the New York Times’ A.O. Scott and New York Magazine’s David Edelstein to director Kevin Smith and blogger Kim Morgan.

But Ebert and Disney-ABC wrangled over the value of the “thumbs up, thumbs down” feature, which is a registered trademark owned by Ebert and the estate of the late Gene Siskel.

Though Ebert bemoaned the loss of local newspaper film critics, he was quick to embrace the Internet, finding his website the ideal place to communicate with fellow film geeks, and even more empowering once he lost his voice and amassed nearly a million Twitter followers. “Moviegoers these days know so much more about the movies, in every respect, than they did years ago,” he wrote in Variety.

After growing up with films made by Federico Fellini and Orson Welles (he named “Citizen Kane” the most important film ever made, if not “the best”), he ignited controversy when he said videogames would never equal film with their storytelling or artistry.

“I am prepared to believe that video games can be elegant, subtle, sophisticated, challenging and visually wonderful. But I believe the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art,” he wrote on his site after the release of the videogame film “Doom.”

A critic of the film ratings system, he objected to an R rating for the violent “Passion of the Christ” and misuse of the NC-17 rating.

He wrote more than 15 books on subjects from Martin Scorsese to London and rice cookers, including “Awake in the Dark” and “Your Movie Sucks,” a collection of his negative reviews. Since 1999 he has hosted Ebertfest, featuring overlooked films, in Champaign, Ill.

Ebert married Chaz Hammelsmith in 1992. The former attorney took over his business operations, served as a producer on his TV show and traveled to the Cannes Film Festival in 2011 to take over Ebert’s tradition of filing interviews with festival filmmakers.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by a step-daughter and two step-grandchildren.

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  1. Roger is the most trusted movie critic for me and I always read his review before I choose which movie to go to. What a great loss … It’s like I lost a very good friend for 20 years. I will miss you for a long time. Good-Bye

  2. i always looked forward to Siskel and Ebert back in the day. Then when Siskel passed away, it was sad, but we still had Ebert. It’s almost like losing a family member. I pray that God will comfort Chaz and all of the Ebert family, and I hope that if they read any of these comments that they will find comfort in them as well. It is indeed the end of an era. Rest in peace Roger Ebert, you fought a good fight. We will miss you always.

  3. What Roger Ebert Did Along With Gene Siskel Was to Change The Way We Watch Movies, I Always remeber What Both Did Because They Will always be On Our Hearts Whether They Were on Both Sneak Previews For PBS and Siskel & Ebert at The Movies on Syndication.

  4. Roger Ebert,

    You are a brave man. You are the reason i started to love movies. You will be missed Roger. It will not be the same without you here. Rest In Peace Roger. I’ll see you at the movies.

  5. The news today of Roger Ebert’s death has truly shocked and saddened me. His struggle was so courageous, and him and Chaz’s love story so deep and strong, he felt immortal to me. I have watched his reviews since I was a kid (late seventies/grew up in the 80s) and LOVED At the Movies with Gene Siskel. I watched it even through its various inceptions with other critics and his illness until its end in 2010. His struggle of the last decade+ was profoundly inspirational, and amazing to see his career highten even more, through blogs and using his computerized voice (because of the cancer & inability to speak). In all the years of Oprah, the show with him & Chaz a few years ago, was one that stands out to me because of this very reason. It touched me in such a DEEP way, their interview and journey, words can not express. It’s like today…this pains me and makes me cry as if he is a friend. And he is! To all us movie buffs and lovers!!! Even if you didn’t agree with a review, you respected him because he was brilliant and passionate. He was a smart, creative, genius of a Pulitzer-Prize winning screenwriter, short story writer, reviewer and essayist, and his books were legendary–he elevated the art. With his Film Festival, too, which will go on. As a person who hopes to do something with film one day, and as a never-ending movie-watcher, he will be in my future thoughts. And my prayers go out to his wife, children, grandchildren, family, and friends. R.I.P. Roger Ebert. The balcony is closed. Two thumbs up for your life and career, two thumbs down for this news.

  6. May the Good Lord, or Devine Sprit share his comfort with you. You are an icon in my life, and I am sure the lives of many others. Rest in Peace, you will always be a friend, even if we never spoke face to face. I have always treasured your opinion on film, and move. I am pleased that you are no longer suffering and with the strength of Spirit you family will be soon at rest also. Eli.

  7. His reviews were frequently more entertaining than the movies being reviewed. I can’t believe he’s gone this soon. Movies will be for the worse now that he can’t lend his voice to them.

  8. Logged in especially to write something for Ebert: according to him only a few movies and moviemakers managed to place a permanent cinematic stamp on the industry. Ebert has been the only critic to ever accomplish that. By sharing his voice with anyone willing to listen, he himself has become one of the icons he so passionately described.

  9. He’s indeed the only person who’s job was “critic” that I can say I not only respected, but admired. He never came off as pretentious or snobby, he had an equal enjoyment for highbrow “art” as campy “trash.” With unwavering disregard for convention, he called ’em as he saw ’em, honoring talented filmmakers across the spectrums of style, taste, budget, and notoriety.

    I’ll surely raise a glass for this lost champion of the art of cinema. Cheers, all.

  10. Growing up in Chicago, Siskel & Ebert was a staple. The chemistry between them always made the show a must see. They didn’t always agree so you truly got two perspectives. In later years I thought he handled his illness with grace and perseverance. He will be missed

  11. He loved movies, he has passion for films. Perhaps the public despise critics, but in my opinion, it s thanks to them that several films has become classics for us. RIP fellow cinema fan Roger Ebert.

  12. For 25 years you were a weekly staple for me Roger. My thoughts to your famiy. You were the best and probably the only critic I followed religously.
    Here’s looking at you.

  13. A Great Loss.
    I have spent countless hours watching old episodes of At the Movies. These old episodes, as well as his written reviews, have been endlessly entertaining and educational. Two very admiring thumbs up for Mr. Ebert.

  14. I am very sad about Roger’s passing. A few years ago, when my personal life was crumbling all about me, I happened to post on Roger Ebert’s blog, which was helpful in numbing my mind from all my worries. I mentioned my issues in passing, thinking nothing of it. Since Roger moderated the blog, he had access to the commenter’s email addresses. I received the following, from Roger:

    Offline response: I’m sorry for your troubles.

    Best,
    R

    No, it wasn’t soul-redeeming advice, but it was a pat on the back and acknowledgment from someone who had been there and back again. His empathy was encouraging. Though politically we were not compatible, I enjoyed his writing and our brief interactions. He was a great man, had a great mind, and I will miss him.

  15. A sad day for his family – my sympathies to them. Sad for his movie-going fans and family, as well. Ebert was a fun reviewer to watch, and I enjoyed the interaction between he and Gene Siskel. Hope they’re currently arguing over Tarantino films and some of the recent Oscar wins.

  16. Long before the internet and long before I made it to film school, there was “At The Movies” to teach me my first lessons in film. It’s amazing how much I learned from Roger Ebert over the years, from his unceasing output of reviews, books, interviews and television appearances.

    The one thing you took away from watching him work was that he LOVED MOVIES, and he kept that passion going until the day he died. For someone to watch thousands of movies, year after year, many of which were awful, and still maintain that passion, is admirable and incredible.

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