That iconic and most famous of movie critic personalities, Roger Ebert, has passed away at the age of 70, following a recurrence of the cancer which had previously robbed him of a voice and jaw. We regret to make this announcement just one day after Ebert marked his 46th anniversary of working as a professional film reviewer and journalist, having begun his legendary run with the Chicago Sun-Times back in 1967.
My own personal introduction to the world of film criticism, analysis and journalism came through Ebert, back in the mid-1990s when I was just a kid. I recall visiting my local Barnes & Noble bookstore in Medford, Oregon on a frequent basis, where I could read Ebert’s “One-Minute Reviews” free of charge. Similarly, like millions of other people, I would tune in to watch Siskel & Ebert & the Movies whenever it was possible, to see what those legendary sharp-witted gentlemen had to say about the latest film releases, be it Space Jam or Good Will Hunting.
Of course, little did I know back then that Ebert had been working at the top of his field for around thirty years by that point. He’d already had reviews published in the Reader’s Digest, co-written the 1970 cult classic film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, co-hosted Sneak Previews with Gene Siskel from 1975-1982 – followed by At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert for the next four years – and then & the Movies beginning in 1986.
Ebert, born Roger Joseph Ebert in Urbana, Illinois on June 18th, 1942, wrote more than 15 books over the course of his career, including the annual Roger Ebert’s Movie Yearbook installments beginning in 1999 (except for in 2008). He won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 1975 – becoming the first movie reviewer to do so – and his television programs racked up numerous awards recognition over the years. He was also the first film critic to be awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, after years of his reviews being syndicated in newspapers around the United States (and even the world).
If that wasn’t impressive enough, the man kept his nose to the grindstone even after being diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer back in 2002. That disease would ravage him physically over the subsequent decade, yet Ebert continued to write passionately about the art of cinema until shortly before his death (you can read his final review for Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder).
He also kept an online journal for many years, with his final entry “A Leave of Presence” having been posted online just a couple days before his death. Here is a telling excerpt:
Thank you. Forty-six years ago on April 3, 1967, I became the film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. Some of you have read my reviews and columns and even written to me since that time. Others were introduced to my film criticism through the television show, my books, the website, the film festival, or the Ebert Club and newsletter. However you came to know me, I’m glad you did and thank you for being the best readers any film critic could ask for.
… At this point in my life, in addition to writing about movies, I may write about what it’s like to cope with health challenges and the limitations they can force upon you. It really stinks that the cancer has returned and that I have spent too many days in the hospital. 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.
… 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.
The Screen Rant staff would like to express their sincere condolences to the friends and family of Roger Ebert in this difficult time. I certainly owe a debt of gratitude that can never be fully repaid to the man, who can fairly be called one of my most important teachers – and the person who set me on the path to finding my true calling, many years before I had the slightest clue what that would be.
R.I.P. Roger Joseph Ebert: June 18th, 1942 – April 4th, 2013.