April 4, 2013

Ebert, nation's best-known film critic, dies at 70

The Associated Press

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In this Jan. 12, 2011 file photo, Pulitzer Prize-winning movie critic Roger Ebert works in his office at the WTTW-TV studios in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

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This May 17, 2004 file photo shows Pulitzer Prize winning film critc Roger Ebert at the 57th International Film Festival in Cannes, southern France. The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting that its film critic Roger Ebert died on Thursday, April 4, 2013. He was 70. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, file)

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Joining the Sun-Times part-time in 1966, he pursued graduate study at the University of Chicago and got the reviewing job the following year. His reviews were eventually syndicated to several hundred other newspapers, collected in books and repeated on innumerable websites, which would have made him one of the most influential film critics in the nation even without his television fame.

His 1975 Pulitzer for distinguished criticism was the first, and one of only three, given to a film reviewer since the category was created in 1970. In 2005, he received another honor when he became the first critic to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Ebert's breezy and quotable style, as well as his deep understanding of film technique and the business side of the industry, made him an almost instant success.

He soon began doing interviews and profiles of notable actors and directors in addition to his film reviews — celebrating such legends as Alfred Hitchcock, John Wayne and Robert Mitchum. Ebert also offered words of encouragement for then-newcomer Martin Scorsese, who was one of three filmmakers working on a bio-documentary about Ebert at the time of his death.

In 1969, Ebert took a leave of absence from the Sun-Times to write the screenplay for "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls." The movie got an "X'' rating and became somewhat of a cult film.

Ebert's television career began the year he won the Pulitzer, first on WTTW-TV, the Chicago PBS station, then nationwide on PBS and later on several commercial syndication services.

And while Siskel and Ebert may have sparred on air, they were close off camera. Siskel's daughters were flower girls when Ebert married his wife, Chaz, in 1992.

"He's in my mind almost every day," Ebert wrote in his autobiography. "He became less like a friend than like a brother."

Ebert found a professional and personal partner in Chaz, who acted as his co-producer. During television interviews, he often used his computer voice to tell her "I love you."

She returned the sentiment, telling Ebert during the final dress rehearsal for "Ebert Presents at the Movies" that he had an "indomitable spirit."

"And you know that's right," Chaz Ebert told her husband. "Because people would have understood totally if you decided never to do any of this again."

"I've lost the love of my life," Chaz Ebert said in her statement Thursday, "and the world has lost a visionary and a creative and generous spirit who touched so many people all over the world. We had a lovely, lovely life together, more beautiful and epic than a movie. It had its highs and the lows, but was always experienced with good humor, grace and a deep abiding love for each other."

Ebert was also an author, writing more than 20 books that included two volumes of essays on classic movies and the popular "I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie," a collection of some of his most scathing reviews.

The son of a union electrician who worked at the University of Illinois' Urbana-Champaign campus, Ebert was born in Urbana on June 18, 1942. The love of journalism, as well as of movies, came early. Ebert covered high school sports for a local paper at age 15 while also writing and editing his own science fiction fan magazine.

He attended the university and was editor of the student newspaper. After graduating in 1964, he spent a year on scholarship at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and then began work toward a doctorate in English at the University of Chicago.

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