R.I.P Roger Ebert; Legendary Film Critic, Historian, and Author Passes Away at Age 70

     April 4, 2013


Roger Ebert, one of the most influential and famous film critics of all-time, has passed away at the age of 70.  According to Variety, he died of complications from cancer.  In his remarkable life, Ebert wrote more than 15 books including his autobiography, Life Itself, in 2011.  In 1975, Ebert became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for criticism.  He also didn’t simply look at cinema from afar, but also participated in the development by writing Russ Meyer‘s 1970 film, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.  Perhaps most notably (and it’s hard to say what’s most notable in Ebert’s life), he and Gene Siskel took advantage of television as the new medium to bring film criticism to the masses.  Both wrote for newspapers, but in the age of television, their “Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down” brought film criticism to an even wider audience than their Chicago papers could reach.

Hit the jump for my thoughts on Ebert’s passing.  Our deepest condolences go out to Ebert’s wife, Chaz Hammelsmith Ebert, and his countless friends and colleagues.

roger-ebertThere will be plenty of loving obituaries for Roger Ebert, and the best I can do is to offer my own personal thoughts on his passing.

When I was young, my father and I would watch Siskel & Ebert and the Movies.  We enjoyed watching the two spar, and then give their famous thumbs-up or thumbs-down (the sideways thumb helped nobody).  In some ways, this was populist film criticism.  It was a consumer review that helped average moviegoers decide how to spend their dollars at the box office that weekend.  But the duo did far more than simply weigh in on mainstream pictures.  They were advocates, and they championed foreign films like the Three Colors trilogy and the indie documentary, Hoop Dreams.  I first heard about these movies from Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert.

I won’t say watching Roger Ebert made me want to be a film critic simply because I never expected to land into this profession.  But I could never look at my job and not think of Ebert.  Who could think of the profession of film criticism and not have Roger Ebert come to mind?  This is a man who didn’t simply give out stars, but was also a teacher.  He’s the man who would show Casablanca to an audience, and go frame-by-frame to explain its power and significance.  His name is synonymous with film criticism and appreciation, and there are few names in history with that distinction.

roger-ebert-thumbs-upHe was intelligent and influential, but what I admire most about Ebert was his perseverance.  Ebert had suffered multiple health problems throughout the past decade.  In 2002, he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and the resulting surgeries eventually left him with the inability to speak.  Rather than be silenced, he took full advantage of the Internet and social media, and his “voice” became louder than ever.  His previous role as newspaper writer and TV commentator now seemed small compared to the modern audience he reached and spoke to on any subject he pleased.

Sometimes I disagreed with Roger Ebert’s individual reviews, and other times I agreed with him.  There were times when I admired his ability to shine a new light on a movie, and other times when I was infuriated with his take on a picture.  But I cared what he thought and so did millions of readers who may have been looking to have an opinion reinforced, a nudge on whether or not they should buy a movie ticket, or simply another voice in the discourse about motion pictures.

On April 2nd, Ebert told his readers that a past hip fracture “has been revealed to be a cancer” and that he would be receiving radiation treatment.  He said he would take a “leave of presence”, but sounded hopeful for the future.  “So on bad days I may write about the vulnerability that accompanies illness,” said Ebert. “On good days, I may wax ecstatic about a movie so good it transports me beyond illness.”

He honestly believed in the power of movies to transport us.  I hope and assume he also believed in his power of his writing to transport us whether he was providing a history of cinema, telling Rob Schneider his movies sucked, celebrating the Great Movies, or explaining how to use a rice cooker.  His passion was undeniable, and it’s a passion that enriched his readers, enhanced their love of cinema, and it’s a passion that will carry on.

You can watch a couple videos of that passion for movies as he talks about his life, and another video where he rails against another critic during a Q&A at Sundance for Better Luck Tomorrow:

Thank you, Mr. Ebert.  You will be sorely missed.



Around The Web
  • bk

    Did cancer kill him or The Host?

    • chanandeler

      Not cool man. Not cool.

    • GYFS

      The Host gave him cancer again ;)

    • anthony

      HAHA awesome. It was finally his skin flab that devoured him.

  • stylus59

    End of an era… at least he can now join Siskel in movie critic heaven.

  • scottishpunk

    Beyond devastated here. Mr. Ebert was an inspiration and a personal hero throughout my entire life. I cant think of a sadder day than this. Thank you for everything you’ve done for the world of cinema, Roger. The movies will not be the same with you, sir.

  • Pat Rigley

    Well written piece Mr. Goldberg.

    Most times, Roger Ebert was my voice at the movies. He was also my eyes for movies I had not seen yet and movies I would never see. Years later, reading his extraordinary blog postings he became my friend. A fine example of a man and a life led well.

  • daniel

    Personally I would have used a picture from his prime with what we first see of him instead of the horrible one of him with cancer and missing a jaw. Do the right thing and change it.

    • Archduke

      He was a man and he deserves to be remembered for his struggles and successes both. Do the right thing and don’t act like the man died when he lost his jaw.

  • sense 11

    :( RIP Mr. Ebert, you will be forever missed

  • Dominik

    Mr Ebert,

    Your reviews have always been a fundamental part of my film-love. I cant possibly imagine a world where I watch a film and dont read YOUR opinion on it right after. But this time has come now…

    I read all your books, I will read them again. I ll watch old recordings of your TV show. Bodys grow old and decay, eventually leave this world…but WRITINGS and HONEST OPINION will never meet such a fate.

    You have made yourself immortal. You are a true Hollywood legend, even without a camera or an Oscar. You are just as important.

    May you rest in eternal peace.


    Dominik Klein

  • Kevin

    I give this news two thumbs down. He will be missed, RIP Roger Ebert.

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  • Barbafella

    Lets not forget he also wrote the screenplay to Russ Meyer’s ‘Beyond the Valley of the Dolls’ the wildest,most fun screenplay ever.”This is my scene and it freaks me out!” Genius.

    • Barbafella

      “Happening” not “scene” I’m upset.

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  • Chris Conley

    Unfortunately, I can only give Roger one thumb up considering I didn’t agree with him much on his reviews and thought his one screenwriting turn was such a bad movie that I had to just turn it off. But he will be missed for his insightful if not always fair view of movies.
    RIP Roger Ebert 1942-2013

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  • Matt

    My brother would always kinda drag me into watching Siskel & Ebert with him back in the old PBS days, I came to value the amount of footage you could see of whatever movie that was currently released, then I really came to appreciate the back and forth between the two critics. It really was a great show and taught me a lot about constructive criticism and expressing your opinion without being a douche about it. Ebert was definitely a lover of film first and a critic second and along with guys like Leonard Maltin really wore their love of the medium on their sleeves and did it in an intelligent way.

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