Legendary US film critic Roger Ebert has died aged 70, following a decade of ill health in which he battled cancers of the thyroid and salivary glands.
“We were getting ready to go home today for hospice care, when he looked at us, smiled, and passed away,” his widow Chaz Ebert told the Chicago Sun-Times. “No struggle, no pain, just a quiet, dignified transition.”
Ebert won a Pulitzer Prize for his film reviews in 1975 and he was voted the most powerful pundit in America by Forbes magazine in 2007.
Tributes to the critic flooded in from everyone from film fans to President Obama, who said: “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.”
As well as reviewing films for the Chicago Sun-Times for 46 years and critiquing movies on TV for 31, Ebert wrote a number of screenplays for the sexploitation filmmaker Russ Meyer during the early days of his career.
A prodigious writer, Ebert famously reviewed as many as 306 films per year and contributed interviews, profiles of movie stars and political columns to the Sun-Times.
He’ll perhaps best be remembered, though, as one of the hosts of the TV series Siskel & Ebert At the Movies, which he co-hosted with Chicago Tribute film critic Gene Siskel from 1986 until the latter’s death in 1999. Ebert continued to front the programme with a number of guest presenters after Siskel’s passing until 2010.
In 2006, Ebert lost part of his lower jaw and with it the ability to speak or eat, but he refused to let medical worries keep him from the public eye.
On Tuesday the critic blogged that he planned to take a “leave of presence” to undergo treatment for a recurrence of cancer following a hip fracture, but pledged: “I am not going away. My intent is to continue to write selected reviews but to leave the rest to a talented team of writers hand-picked and greatly admired by me.
“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.”
As well as his widow, Ebert is survived by two stepchildren, Sonia and Jay, and four grandchildren.