Roger Ebert, a trusted and world renowned film critic, journalist, and television host, died on Thursday, April 4th in Chicago at the age of 70. Announced by The Chicago Sun-Times, his place of employment for over 45 years, Ebert was without question the most influential film critic of his generation. His direct cause of death is unknown, but he had battled cancer of the thyroid and salivary glands for 11 years according to www.rogerebert.com.
Born in June of 1942, Ebert began his career at The Chicago Sun-Times in 1967 as a film critic and published his first book, Illini Century: One Hundred Years of Campus Life, that same year. His major career milestones began in the 1970’s when he was the first film critic to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 1975. The same year, Ebert teamed up with Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune to co-host a weekly film review show titled Sneak Previews; the show was produced by a local Chicago broadcasting station. In 1978 the show was picked up by PBS to air nationally, and was renamed At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert.
Siskel and Ebert became famous for their “thumbs up/thumbs down” summary of films and eventually coined the term “two thumbs up” which is now a commonly used phrase and part of the language that regards well reviewed films. The show was picked up by Buena Vista Television in 1986 and renamed again to Siskel & Ebert & The Movies; the show was nominated five times for the Primetime Emmy Awards and three times for the Daytime Emmy Awards while hosted by Siskel and Ebert. After Siskel’s death in 1999, Ebert hosted the show with rotating co-hosts until Richard Roeper, a Chicago Sun-Times columnist, became the permanent co-host in 2000; the show was renamed At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper. The last episode of the series aired in August of 2010.
Among his television series, Ebert achieved countless other honors and awards throughout his lifetime. He was the first film critic to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and co-wrote the screenplay for the cult-classic film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. He also was made an Honorary Life Member of the Directors Guild of America (2009), won a Special Achievement Award from the American Society of Cinematographers (2003), a Tribute Award from the Gotham Awards (2007), and the Video Premiere Award from the DVD Exclusive Awards for his audio commentary on Citizen Kane (2001), just to name a few. Along with his awards, Ebert wrote at least 15 books in his lifetime and reviewed thousands of movies.
Ebert’s style of film critique was appreciated by his fans, whether he used sarcasm like in his review of the 2001 film Pearl Harbor: “’Pearl Harbor’ is a two-hour movie squeezed into three hours, about how on December 7, 1941, the Japanese staged a surprise attack on an American love triangle.” Or his very blunt review of the 2005 film Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo: “Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks.” Or his very passionate review of the 1993 film Schindler’s List: “Of the thousands of movies that I’ve seen, none has touched me more deeply, spiritually, emotionally with just an outpouring of emotion.”
There is no doubt that Ebert was passionate about what he did for a living. After a complicated surgery related to his thyroid cancer in 2006, he lost the ability to speak, but that didn’t stop him from doing what he loved. He became an active user on Twitter and started his own personal blog. On April 2 Ebert announced that he would be taking a “leave of presence” in his blog due to the return of his cancer. He wrote, “What in the world is a leave of presence? It means I am not going away. My intent is to continue to write selected reviews but to leave the rest to a talented team of writers handpicked and greatly admired by me. What’s more, I’ll be able at last to do what I’ve always fantasized about doing: reviewing only the movies I want to review.”
Ebert’s wife, Charlie “Chaz” Ebert, described his passing, “We were getting ready to go home today for hospice care, when he looked at us, smiled, and passed away. No struggle, no pain, just a quiet, dignified transition.”
Roger Ebert made countless worthwhile contributions to the film industry and will certainly be missed by his fans and colleagues. His final words in his last blog post were, “So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I’ll see you at the movies.”