Roger Ebert, the world renowned film critic and longtime Chicago resident has died at 70 after a long battle with cancer. Ebert's decades long career was filled with many triumphs which were challenged beginning with his initial cancer diagnosis in 2002. By that point Ebert's identity (along with his late comrade Gene Siskel) had come to be recognized as the face and voice of movie criticism. A long running popular television show, a slew of best-selling books, celebrity guest appearances, an array of prestigious awards, and a non-stop movie review column for his hometown newspaper, the Chicago Sun Times, which was syndicated world-wide, had brought Ebert fame, wealth and career longevity.
Though the struggle with cancer which Ebert bravely made public sidelined him for periods of time it never dimmed his passion for movies. Only two days before his death Ebert announced, via his popular blog, that while he was taking a step back from regular reviewing he would continue to write about the movies he genuinely loved. Ebert's undimmed ardor for film was unwavering and his take on everything from acknowledged masterpieces like Citizen Kane to movies from the lowest rungs of cinema made his reviews an insightful pleasure to read. The vast body of writing Ebert leaves behind including his moving and powerful 2011 autobiography "Life Itself: A Memoir" will inspire readers for years to come.
Ebert's personal example will also serve as an inspiration. After becoming instantly recognizable as a TV personality via the many incarnations of the "At the Movies" film review show Ebert's struggles with cancer included the removal of his jaw and the loss of his voice in 2006. Rather than hide in the shadows, he instead chose to be photographed, interviewed in-depth, and he even brought back his television show heroic acts in a cultural age obsessed with personal appearance. Along with his film writing, he documented his health challenges and presented his views on a wide variety of subjects (including his unstinting support for liberal causes) via his blog and Twitter posts.
Ebert, who was born June 18, 1942 in Urbana, Illinois, began his association with the Sun Times in 1966 after graduating from the University of Illinois. After becoming the paper's film critic in 1967, he went on to a career filled with a series of film critic firsts: in 1970 he co-wrote the infamous screenplay for the Russ Meyer soft core porn classic Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, in 1975 he was the first to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Film Criticism. That same year Ebert and Chicago Tribune film critic Gene Siskel began their movie review program "Sneak Previews" for WTTW, which was bought by Disney and syndicated as "At the Movies," becoming a national sensation throughout the 1980s. The duo's famed "thumbs up/thumbs down" take on movies became iconic, brought film reviews to the masses and presaged the shorthand approach to film criticism the use of star ratings and other quick takes utilized by Rotten Tomatoes and Metra Critic in vogue today. After Siskel's death from cancer in 1999, Ebert launched a search for a replacement and settled on Richard Roeper, who co-hosted with Ebert until both left the program soon before the show's demise in 2010, during the midst of his health challenges. In 2011 Ebert and his wife Chaz, acting as Executive Producer, briefly brought back another incarnation of the show for WTTW.
I was well aware of Ebert's career and indeed, had been inspired by his reviews and though I'd met Roger years before becoming film critic for Windy City Times in May of 2004, it wasn't until I began to review on a regular basis that I got to know Roger. Unfailingly gracious and extremely witty, Roger was a very unaffected man without a whiff of "celebrity" about him. His kindness and generosity to an entire generation of young film critics and especially to those in his personal orbit who had the pleasure of taking in the breadth of his interests (which went far beyond movies) will be greatly missed. He is survived by Chaz, his equally gracious and tremendously supportive wife since 1992.
Gene Siskel Film Center statement regarding the passing of Roger Ebert:
ChicagoThe Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago grieves with the Ebert family, Chicago, and film buffs everywhere on the passing of the beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert.
Barbara Scharres, the Film Center's Director of Programming for 37 years, has been a friend and colleague of Roger's for over three decades. He has made numerous appearances at the Film Center over the years and Scharres has covered the Cannes Film Festival on Ebert's behalf for the Sun-Times. Scharres said:
"Roger Ebert was one-of-a-kind. He loved movies so much that he wanted everyone else to love them too. This love was at the very core of his work, and he brought the rewards and joy of thinking about movies and talking and debating about movies to millions of people around the world. This is his legacyhe made movies matter in a new way."
"Roger was as generous in his criticism as he was astute. His championing of American independents and other young filmmakers is well known. He often used the power of his fame to focus attention on new talent; a review from Roger gave a welcome boost to many a young career."
"He was the first film critic to recognize and fully utilize the power of social media. He took dialogue about the movies he loved global, yet another way Roger found to fold others into film culture through his infectious enthusiasm."
"Roger's love for his beloved wife Chaz was a cornerstone of his life. Roger and Chaz were long the royal couple of any film festival. He was never happier than when she was next to him."
"We at the Gene Siskel Film Center mourn along with Roger's readers everywhere. Our deepest sympathy goes to heroic Chaz; to all their extended family; to Roger's longtime Sun-Times editor Laura Emerick; and to Roger's most loyal assistant Carol Iwata."
The Gene Siskel Film Center has had a relationship with Ebert since its inception when it was founded as The Film Center in 1972. Renamed after the late Chicago Tribune film critic Gene Siskel in 2000, in recent years the Gene Siskel Film Center collaborated with Ebert on a number of events, including its Sophisticated Ladies benefit which honored Nicole Kidman in 2002 when Ebert interviewed her at its annual fundraiser, and in June 2003 at its annual benefit when he received an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and led a Director's Discussion with Andrew Davis and Harold Ramis. Roger also appeared at the Film Center in March 2002 for a book-signing of Roger Ebert: The Great Movies, followed by a rousing introduction of Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bombwhich he called "arguably the best political satire of the centurypresented as part of the series The Many Masks of Peter Sellers. The Film Center is also grateful for the generosity of the Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation which supported its Black Harvest Film Festival. In 2012, in celebration of the Gene Siskel Film Center's 40th Anniversary, Roger also lended his artistic talents which appeared in the form of an illustration which appears on the Gene Siskel Film Center's tote bag.
Jean de St. Aubin, the Gene Siskel Film Center's Executive Director said: "As everyone's favorite film critic, an entertaining raconteur, Roger was an extraordinary communicator. Our hearts go out to Chaz, his great love and partner, and to his family. He will be greatly missed."
Tonight, the Gene Siskel Film Center invites patrons and members of the public to sign a memory bookplaced with flowers in its lobby next to the famous Victor Skrebneski portrait of Siskel and Ebertthat will be presented to Roger's wife Chaz. De St. Aubin, will say a few words before the 6:00 pm screening of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, named one of Ebert's "Great Movies" this evening.