Roger Ebert, the trailblazing Chicago Sun-Times film critic and journalist, died Thursday at the age of 70 after a long battle with cancers of the thyroid and salivary gland. His death was reported by the Sun-Times, where he worked for 46 years.
Arguably the most recognizable film reviewer on the planet, Ebert began his professional career in 1967 and rose to greater fame in the 1970s and ‘80s alongside his longtime co-host, Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune, on the television programs “Sneak Previews,” “At the Movies With Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert” and “Siskel and Ebert at the Movies.”
In 1975, the same year he and Siskel launched their first program on public television, Ebert won a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, the first film critic ever to claim that honor. Together, Ebert and Siskel pioneered the format of on-air film criticism, sharing a compelling chemistry that was at once contentious and fraternal. The two gained a reputation for their peevish on-screen disagreements, but they eventually became close friends off screen. Siskel died in 1999 from complications from a cancerous brain tumor.
Ebert’s own health had been waning for some time. He lost part of his lower jaw in 2006, and, robbed of the ability to speak or eat, he reinvented himself as a popular social media personality, with more than 800,000 Twitter followers. Just this Tuesday, he announced that he was planning to reduce his workload after his cancer had returned. Ebert planned to continue to write reviews for the Sun-Times as well as develop new projects under Ebert Digital. Despite his failing health, Ebert’s best-known body part -- his thumb -- never failed him.
In addition to penning more than four decades’ worth of film criticism, Ebert also wrote books and screenplays, including the screenplay for Russ Meyer’s 1970 film “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.” His memoir, “Life Itself,” was published by Grand Central Publishing in 2011. In 2005, he became the first film critic ever to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
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An early investor in Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Ebert was also champion of pushing the technological envelope. But at his core, he was a diehard cineaste who once said, “Every great film should seem new every time you see it.”
Ebert died in Chicago and is survived by his wife, Chaz Hammelsmith, a step-daughter and two step-grandchildren. Ebert’s final film review, a mostly negative critique of Stephenie Meyer’s “The Host,” ran on the Sun-Times website on March 27.