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By Meriah Doty | Movie Talk
Famed movie critic Roger Ebert died Thursday in Chicago after battling cancer. He was 70.
An opinionated writer, but also a movie fan, Ebert reviewed films for the Chicago Sun-Times for 46 years. He was perhaps best known, however, for his 31 years reviewing films on television.
Ebert experienced health problems over the past ten years, suffering illnesses including thyroid cancer and cancer of the salivary gland. In 2006 he lost part of his lower jaw, but — as his obituary in the Sun-Times points out — it didn’t drive him out of the spotlight.
President Obama, also from Chicago, released a statement on Ebert’s passing:
Michelle and I are saddened to hear about the passing of Roger Ebert. For a generation of Americans – and especially Chicagoans – Roger was the movies. When he didn’t like a film, he was honest; when he did, he was effusive – capturing the unique power of the movies to take us somewhere magical. Even amidst his own battles with cancer, Roger was as productive as he was resilient – continuing to share his passion and perspective with the world. The movies won’t be the same without Roger, and our thoughts and prayers are with Chaz and the rest of the Ebert family.
Many may not know, but Ebert was an early investor in Google and believed in the power of the Internet to share his messages — especially through his site on rogerebert.com.
The acclaimed writer enjoyed wide and varied accolades, winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1975 and was added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005. He also won a Webby “Person of the Year” award in 2010 for special achievement.
Fresh off the heels of his Pulitzer, Ebert launched his television show — along with Gene Siskel (who died in 1999) — the same year he was honored with the esteemed writing award. It started as a local Chicago show, but its popularity eventually pushed it into the national spotlight, making the duo’s famed “thumbs up, thumbs down” a household gesture.
Ebert graduated from the University of Illinois in 1964, where he wrote and edited for student publications. He studied in South Africa on a Rotary Scholarship after graduating and later went on to the University of Chicago with the plan of earning his doctorate in English. As a student, Ebert also expressed interest in working at the Sun-Times and by April 1967, he was asked to become the paper’s film critic when the previous critic, Eleanor Keen, retired.
He was savvy from the start, calling 1967’s “Bonnie and Clyde” with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway “a milestone” and “a landmark.” “Years from now it is quite possible that ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ will be seen as the definitive film of the 1960s,” he wrote in his review.
Aside from his early eye on Google, Ebert also broke character when he wrote the campy 1970 film “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” for sexploitation director Russ Meyer. Ebert’s newspaper editor of the time, James Hoge, made him choose between making films and reviewing them. He chose the latter.
Ebert is survived by his wife Chaz Hammelsmith, step-daughter, and two step-grandchildren.