CHICAGO (AP) - Roger Ebert, the nation's best-known
film reviewer who with fellow critic Gene Siskel created the template
for succinct thumbs-up or thumbs-down movie reviews, died Thursday. He
Ebert, a film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times
since 1967, was also the first journalist to win a Pulitzer Prize for
movie criticism. He died Thursday at the Rehabilitation Institute of
Chicago, his office said.
Only a day earlier, Ebert announced that he was undergoing radiation treatment after a recurrence of cancer.
"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."
Ebert wrote on his blog.
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 his thumb - pointing up or
down. It was the main logo of the televised shows Ebert co-hosted,
first with 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.
On the air, Ebert and Siskel bickered like an old
married couple and openly needled each other. To viewers who had trouble
telling them apart, Ebert was known as the fat one with glasses, Siskel
as the thin, bald one.
Despite his power with the movie-going public, Ebert 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,
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. 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.
In early 2011, Ebert launched a new show, "Ebert
Presents At the Movies." It had new hosts, but featured Ebert in his own
segment, "Roger's Office." He used a chin prosthesis and enlisted
voice-over guests to read his reviews.
While some called Ebert a brave inspiration, he
told The Associated Press in an email in January 2011 that bravery and
courage "have little to do with it."
"You play the cards you're dealt," Ebert wrote. "What's your choice? I have no pain. I enjoy life, and why should I complain?"
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.
His 1975 Pulitzer for distinguished criticism was
the first, and one of only three, given to a film reviewer since the
category was created in 1970. In 2005, he received another honor when he
became the first critic to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Ebert's breezy and quotable style, as well as his
knowledge of film technique and the business side of the industry, made
him an almost instant success.
He soon began doing interviews and profiles of
notable actors and directors in addition to his film reviews -
celebrating such legends as Alfred Hitchcock, John Wayne and Robert
Mitchum and offering words of encouragement for then-newcomer Martin
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.
The son of a union electrician who worked at the
University of Illinois' Urbana-Champaign campus, Roger Joseph Ebert was
born in Urbana on June 18, 1942. The love of journalism, as well as of
movies, came early. Ebert covered high school sports for a local paper
at age 15 while also writing and editing his own science fiction fan
He attended the university and was editor of the
student newspaper. After graduating in 1964, he spent a year on
scholarship at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and then
began work toward a doctorate in English at the University of Chicago.
Ebert's hometown embraced the film critic, hosting
the annual Ebertfest film festival and placing a plaque at his childhood
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
"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
"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
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