Roger Ebert, celebrated film critic, dies at 70
Published Thursday, April 4, 2013 3:42PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, April 5, 2013 10:35AM EDT
Roger Ebert, the famous American film critic and journalist, has died after a long battle with cancer. He was 70.
The Chicago Sun-Times, where Ebert reviewed movies for 46 years, announced his death Thursday on Twitter, saying: “There is a hole that can't be filled. One of the greats has left us.”
Ebert’s wife of 20 years, Chaz, said he died smiling.
"We were getting ready to go home today for hospice care, when he looked at us, smiled, and passed away,” she said in a statement posted on Ebert’s blog.
“No struggle, no pain, just a quiet, dignified transition.”
Ebert’s death comes just two days after he announced in a blog post that he was battling a recurrence of cancer and that he would be writing fewer movie reviews.
He called it “a leave of presence.”
"It means I am not going away," Ebert wrote. "I'll be able at last to do what I've always fantasized about doing: reviewing only the movies I want to review."
He also wrote that he planned to write about his cancer battle “on bad days.”
"On good days, I may wax ecstatic about a movie so good it transports me beyond illness."
After cancer attacked his thyroid and salivary glands, Ebert lost portions of his jaw in 2006. He could no longer speak, but continued to write and eventually returned to television with the help of a computerized voice system.
He credited Chaz with helping him weather the worst days of his illness.
“This woman never lost her love, and when it was necessary she forced me to want to live,” he wrote in a widely-read column.
Chaz Ebert said her husband “fought a courageous fight.”
“I've lost the love of my life and the world has lost a visionary and a creative and generous spirit who touched so many people all over the world,” she said.
“We had a lovely, lovely life together, more beautiful and epic than a movie.”
Ebert famously popularized film criticism through his “thumbs-up, thumbs-down” approach to critiquing films on the TV show he co-hosted with Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune. After Siskel died in 1999, Ebert’s Sun-Times colleague Richard Roeper joined him.
But before viewers around the world began tuning in to “Siskel and Ebert and the Movies” in the 1980s, Ebert had built his reputation at the Sun-Times.
He joined the paper part-time in 1966 and became a film critic the following year.
Ebert won a Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism in 1975, the first-ever given to a film reviewer. In 2005, he became the first movie critic to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Over the years, Ebert published more than 20 books, including a popular collection of reviews titled: “I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie” and his 2011 autobiography, "Life Itself.”
"I have seen untold numbers of movies and forgotten most of them, I hope, but I remember those worth remembering, and they are all on the same shelf in my mind," Ebert wrote in his memoir.
He also wrote screenplays.
Ebert’s sharp eye, insightful prose and knowledge of the movie industry garnered respect and admiration from fellow critics and writers, as well as actors and directors.
A.O. Scott, a New York Times film critic who made many guest appearances on Ebert and Roeper’s show, tweeted Thursday: “Ebert was singular. We are all in his shadow and his debt.”
The artistic director of the Toronto International Film Festival, where Ebert was a fixture, also paid tribute to the legend.
“Movies are human documents,” Cameron Bailey tweeted. “They show us our soul. Roger Ebert taught me that. Rest in peace.”
After he lost his voice, Ebert turned to the Internet to maintain his connection with movie fans. He frequently updated a popular blog on the Sun-Times website and shared his reviews and thoughts with nearly 840,000 Twitter followers.
Ebert was born in Urbana, Ill., on June 18, 1942. His father was an electrician who worked at the University of Illinois’ Urbana-Champaign campus.
Ebert grew up with a love of journalism and movies, writing for a local paper as a teenager and editing his own science fiction fan magazine.
At university, he majored in journalism and edited the student newspaper. After graduation, he went to the University of Cape Town in South Africa on a scholarship and then pursued a doctorate in English at the University of Chicago.
For the past 15 years, the Ebertfest film festival has been held in Champaign, Ill. Ebert selected the movies he thought were overlooked and organizers screened them over a few days.
“He was a remarkable man who influenced journalists and film lovers the world over,” festival organizers said in a post on their website.
This year, Ebertfest will continue as planned, beginning on April 17.
With files from The Associated Press