Film critic Joel Siegel dies at 63

ABC vet's annual Oscar spesh aired for 10 year

“Good Morning America” movie critic and entertainment editor Joel Siegel died Friday in New York of colon cancer. He was 63.

Siegel, who was diagnosed six years ago and then wrote a popular book as a legacy to his young son, worked up until just two weeks before his death.

“Joel was an important part of ABC News, and we will miss him,” said ABC News president David Westin. “He was a brilliant reviewer and a great reporter.”

Known for summing up a film with succinct humor, Siegel was admired for not falling prey to the “film critic’s curse” — giving away the endings to films. Siegel also interviewed hundreds of actors and entertainers, and he covered the Oscars for “Good Morning America.” His annual Oscar broadcast, “Joel Siegel’s Road to the Academy Awards,” aired for 10 years.

“Joel’s great passion was that people be entertained and that they be enriched by what they see and hear — whether in a theater, at a concert, in an art gallery, on a television screen or even in their mind’s eye,” said ABC anchor Charlie Gibson.

Siegel started reviewing movies and theater at New York’s WABC-TV in 1976. He had been seen weekly on “Good Morning America” and for the last 25 years.

When he was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 57, just two weeks after learning he would soon become a first-time father, he started writing the book “Lessons for Dylan: From Father to Son,” filled with stories he wanted to pass on.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Siegel graduated from UCLA and started out as a radio newscaster, a book reviewer for the L.A. Times and a freelance writer. He also worked in advertising, where one of his jobs included inventing ice cream flavors for Baskin Robbins. He became the only drama critic to be nominated for a Tony, for his play “The First,” about baseball player Jackie Robinson.

Siegel became involved in the Civil Rights movement, registering voters in Georgia in 1964, and later wrote jokes for Robert F. Kennedy. He was with Kennedy at Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel when he was assassinated in 1968.

He moved to New York in 1972 and became a feature reporter for WCBS-TV and then joined WABC-TV as the station’s entertainment critic.

In 1991, Siegel, along with actor Gene Wilder whose wife, comedienne Gilda Radner, had died of cancer like Siegel’s first wife Jane, founded Gilda’s Club, which offers support for cancer patients and their families.

Siegel won five New York Emmy Awards and the Public Service Award from B’nai B’rith’s Anti-Defamation League for “distinguished news reporting and commitment to freedom of the press.”

He is survived by his son and his wife, Ena Swansea, an artist.

— Staff and wire reports

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