Film critic Roger Ebert dies aged 70
Ebert had been a film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times since 1967. He had announced on his blog on Wednesday that he was undergoing radiation treatment after a recurrence of cancer.
He had no grand theories or special agendas, but millions recognized the chatty, heavy-set man with wavy hair and horn-rimmed glasses. Above all, they followed the thumb — pointing up or down. It was the main logo of the televised shows Ebert co-hosted, first with the late Gene Siskel of the rival Chicago Tribune and — after Siskel’s death in 1999 — with his Sun-Times colleague Richard Roeper. Although criticized as gimmicky and simplistic, a “two thumbs up” accolade was sure to find its way into the advertising for the movie in question.
Despite his power with the movie-going public, Ebert wrote in his 2011 autobiography “Life Itself,” that he considered himself “beneath everything else a fan.”
“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 2011 memoir, “Life Itself.”
He was teased for years about his weight, but the jokes stopped abruptly when Ebert lost portions of his jaw and the ability to speak, eat and drink after cancer surgeries in 2006. But he overcame his health problems to resume writing full-time and eventually even returned to television. In addition to his work for the Sun-Times, Ebert became a prolific user of social media, connecting with fans on Facebook and Twitter.
Ebert joined the Sun-Times part time in 1966 while pursuing graduate study at the University of Chicago, and got the reviewing job the following year. His reviews were eventually syndicated to several hundred other newspapers, collected in books and repeated on innumerable websites, which would have made him one of the most influential film critics in the nation even without his television fame.
In 1969, he took a leave of absence from the Sun-Times to write the screenplay for “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.” The movie got an “X’’ rating and became somewhat of a cult film.
Ebert’s television career began the year he won the Pulitzer, first on WTTW-TV, the Chicago PBS station, then nationwide on PBS and later on several commercial syndication services. Ebert and Siskel even trademarked the “two thumbs up” phrase.
And while the pair may have sparred on air, they were close off camera. Siskel’s daughters were flower girls when Ebert married his wife, Chaz, in 1992.
“He’s in my mind almost every day,” Ebert wrote in his autobiography. “He became less like a friend than like a brother.”
Ebert was also an author, writing more than 20 books that included two volumes of essays on classic movies and the popular “I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie,” a collection of some of his most scathing reviews.
Ebert also was embraced online in the years after he lost his physical voice. He kept up a Facebook page, a Twitter account with nearly 600,000 followers and a blog, Roger Ebert’s Journal.
The Internet was where he forged relationships with his readers, posting links to stories he found interesting and writing long pieces on varied topics, not just film criticism. He interacted with readers in the comments sections and liked to post old black-and-white photos of Hollywood stars and ask readers to guess who they were.
“My blog became my voice, my outlet, my ‘social media’ in a way I couldn’t have dreamed of,” Ebert wrote in his memoir. “Most people choose to write a blog. I needed to.”
Ebert wrote in 2010 that he did not fear death because he didn’t believe there was anything “on the other side of death to fear.”
“I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state,” he wrote. “I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting.”