×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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.

Popular on Variety

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.

More Film

  • UTA Sundance

    UTA Marketing Ups Sundance Game With Private Residence, Programming

    Talent agency hospitality is a mainstay at the Sundance film Festival, be it in swanky lounges on Park City’s Main Street or private chalets in nearby Deer Valley. United Talent Agency, whose talent roster and independent film group always come in force each year, typically throws a brunch for friends and press — but will [...]

  • Joel Silver

    Silver Pictures Settles with Family of Assistant Who Died on Bora Bora Trip

    Silver Pictures has reached a confidential settlement with the family of Carmel Musgrove, the assistant to Joel Silver who was found dead in a Bora Bora lagoon in 2015. Musgrove’s family filed a wrongful death suit in 2017, alleging that she had been overworked and furnished with drugs and alcohol during the trip. The family [...]

  • David O. Russell

    David O. Russell Looks at 'Three Kings' 20 Years Later

    When David O. Russell made “Three Kings” in 1999, it was one of the most definitive films on the Gulf War. At the time, the director had worked on shorts “Hairway to the Stars” and “Bingo Inferno: A Parody on American Obsessions.” He had also worked on features “Spanking the Monkey” and “Flirting with Disaster.” [...]

  • Metoo Sundance The Glorias Zola On

    #MeToo Issues Continue to Make an Impact on Sundance Films

    If there were any doubts that the impact of sexual-harassment exposés­­ and backlash against them had died down, Oprah Winfrey put them to rest when she withdrew her name (and Apple’s distribution) from “On The Record,” a film about allegations against music execs Russell Simmons and L.A. Reid — just two weeks before its Sundance Film Festival premiere. Variety reached out to Winfrey and the [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein arrives at a Manhattan

    Harvey Weinstein's Request to Move Trial Out of NYC Is Denied (Again)

    An appeals court denied the second request from Harvey Weinstein’s legal team to move his trial out of New York City on Tuesday. Weinstein’s attorneys asked the Appellate Division last week to move the trial to Albany or Suffolk County, arguing it is impossible for him to get a fair trial due to the “carnival-like [...]

  • Adrian Rossi appears in Summer White

    Visit Films to Sell Sundance Player ‘Summer White’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    New York-based sales company Visit Films has acquired worldwide rights for Mexican feature “Summer White,” world premiering in Sundance’s World Cinema Dramatic Competition on Sunday Jan. 26. Visit will also be screening the film at Berlinale’s European Film, Market. Now a key North American sales company for Latin American films, Visit’s catalog includes other major [...]

  • Avengers Endgame

    4DX High-Tech Cinemas Break Box Office Records in 2019

    CJ 4DPLEX, the company behind multi-sensory 4DX cinema technology, has announced that it had a record-breaking 2019, grossing more than £246 million ($320 million) for 4DX worldwide. It was the best year yet for the groundbreaking format, marking a 12% increase from 2018’s record $286 million. The uptick is partly credited to booming revenues in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content