Legendary movie critic Roger Ebert died today. He was 70. He announced in a blog post Tuesday night that he was fighting another bout with cancer and “must slow down” his work, which included a new website launching next week to archive all of his reviews for the Chicago Sun-Times, as well as his annual movie festival. He also was considering a new book as a follow-up to his 2011 memoir Life Itself which Martin Scorsese and Steve Zaillian are teaming to produce as a documentary with Steve James (Hoop Dreams) helming. Ebert was first diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2002 and suffered many health complications since then. But he worked right up until the end. This week, Ebert announced that he was stepping down as lead film critic for the Sun-Times, where his column has appeared since 1967 and later online. “It is with a heavy heart we report that legendary film critic Roger Ebert has passed away,” the newspaper tweeted to Ebert’s 700,000 Twitter followers. But Ebert became best-known for his TV film review shows partnered with Gene Siskel over a 23-year span for PBS and then syndication. Their “thumbs-up” and “thumbs-down” critiques were some of the most feared or cheered in Hollywood – and trusted by the public. After Siskel’s death in 1999, Ebert teamed with film critic Richard Roeper for another TV series beginning in 2000. During Ebert’s illness, however, he did not appear on the show after mid-2006 although his name remained in the title through 2008.
From then on, Ebert would appear on TV in fits and starts, courageously refusing to let his health complications interfere with his chosen profession and lifelong obsession. He wrote more than 15 books including an annual movie yearbook. In 1975, he became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. His TV programs were nominated for Emmys. In 1995, a section of Chicago’s Erie Street was renamed Siskel & Ebert Way. Since 1999, he hosted the annual Roger Eberts’ Film Festival in Champaign, IL. In 2005, Ebert was the first film critic to be awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. As of 2010, Ebert’s movie reviews appeared in more than 200 newspapers in the United States and worldwide via Universal Press Syndicate.
In 1970, to Hollywood’s great surprise (and amusement), he was the screenwriter for the sex-, drugs- and sleaze-crammed sequel Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, directed by the notorious Russ Meyer.
Ebert was not shy about championing films or bludgeoning them, nor sharing with readers the horrific details of his personal life including bouts with alcohol and numerous hospital stays and surgeries that cost the critic his voice, his looks, and parts of his jaw and shoulder. Despite that, he remained to the end an always intelligent, sometimes controversial, and admirably vital voice in the film world and beyond.