*The Chicago’s Sun-Times has announced that film critic Roger Ebert has died at age 70, after just yesterday announcing that his cancer had returned.
Ebert announced on his website Wednesday that he was “taking a leave of presence” due to health issues.
“I’ll be able at last to do what I’ve always fantasized about doing: reviewing only the movies I want to review,” Ebert wrote. “So on bad days I may write about the vulnerability that accompanies illness. On good days, I may wax ecstatic about a movie so good it transports me beyond illness.”
Ebert also announced that he was purchasing his popular website Rogerebert.com from the Sun-Times’ owners and relaunching the site. Additionally, he planned to launch a Kickstarter campaign to bring “At the Movies” back to TV.
Ebert, who reviewed movies for the Chicago Sun-Times for 46 years and on TV for 31 years, “was without question the nation’s most prominent and influential film critic,” the Sun Times reports. He had been in poor health over the past decade, battling cancers of the thyroid and salivary gland.
Per the Chicago Sun Times and Chicago Tribune:
He lost part of his lower jaw in 2006, and with it the ability to speak or eat, a calamity that would have driven other men from the public eye. But Ebert refused to hide, instead forging what became a new chapter in his career, an extraordinary chronicle of his devastating illness that won him a new generation of admirers. “No point in denying it,” he wrote, analyzing his medical struggles with characteristic courage, candor and wit, a view that was never tinged with bitterness or self-pity.
Always technically savvy — he was an early investor in Google — Ebert let the Internet be his voice. His rogerebert.com had millions of fans, and he received a special achievement award as the 2010 “Person of the Year” from the Webby Awards, which noted that “his online journal has raised the bar for the level of poignancy, thoughtfulness and critique one can achieve on the Web.” His Twitter feeds had 827,000 followers.
Ebert was both widely popular and professionally respected. He not only won a Pulitzer Prize — the first film critic to do so — but his name was added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005, among the movie stars he wrote about so well for so long. His reviews were syndicated in hundreds of newspapers worldwide.
The same year Ebert won the Pulitzer — 1975 — he also launched a new kind of television program: “Coming Soon to a Theater Near You” with Chicago Tribune movie critic Gene Siskel on WTTW-Channel 11. At first it ran monthly.
The combination worked. The trim, balding Siskel, perfectly balanced the bespectacled, portly Ebert. In 1978, the show, retitled “Sneak Previews,” moved to PBS for national distribution, and the duo was on their way to becoming a fixture in American culture.
Roger Joseph Ebert was born in Urbana on June 18, 1942, the son of Walter and Annabel Ebert. His father was an electrician at the University of Illinois, his mother, a bookkeeper. It was a liberal household — Ebert remembers his parents praying for the success of Harry Truman in the election of 1948. As a child, he published a mimeographed neighborhood newspaper, and a stamp collectors’ newspaper in elementary school.
Ebert went on to the University of Illinois, where he published a weekly journal of politics and opinion as a freshman and served as editor of the Daily Illini his senior year. He graduated in 1964, and studied in South Africa on a Rotary Scholarship. While still in Urbana, he began free-lancing for the Sun-Times and the Chicago Daily News.
He was accepted at the University of Chicago, where he planned to earn his doctorate in English (an avid reader, Ebert later used literary authors to help explain films — for example, quoting e.e. cummings several times in his review of Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking “2001: A Space Odyssey.”)
But Ebert had also written to Herman Kogan, for whom he freelanced at the Daily News, asking for a job, and ended up at the Sun-Times in September of 1966, working part-time. The following April, he was asked to become the newspaper’s film critic when the previous critic, Eleanor Keen, retired.
In 1992 Ebert married, for the first time, at age 40, to attorney Chaz Hammel-Smith (later Chaz Hammelsmith), who was the great romance of his life and his rock in sickness, instrumental in helping Ebert continue his workload as his health declined.
“She fills my horizon, she is the great fact of my life, she is the love of my life, she saved me from the fate of living out my life alone,” he wrote.