Film critic Roger Ebert has unexpectedly died at the age of 70, likely from complications of his latest fight with cancer. Just yesterday, although receiving chemotherapy, Roger Ebert had announced on his blog that he expected to be fine and would soon be able to return to work at THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES where he had been a film critic for 46 years, although he recently had broken his hip due to cancer likely spreading to his bones. He had previously been treated for thyroid cancer and lost his ability to speak after radical surgery to save his life in mid-2006. Ebert fought his cancer for 11 years.
Roger Ebert was also well known for being half of that long-running movie critic syndicated show, SISKEL AND EBERT AT THE MOVIES, which he was the co-host of along with his friendly rival, Gene Siskel. Roger Ebert blamed MAD MAGAZINE for turning him into a film critic, and wrote this eye-opening statement for MAD’s 1998 edition, MAD ABOUT THE MOVIES, “I learned to be a movie critic by reading MAD Magazine….MAD’s parodies made me aware of the machine inside the skin-of the way a movie might look original on the outside, while inside it was just recycling the same old dumb formulas. I did not read the magazine. I plundered it for clues to the universe. Pauline Kael lost it at the movies; I lost it at MAD Magazine”.
Back in 1961, one of Roger Ebert’s earliest reviews was of LA DOUCE VITA. Since that point, thousands of movie reviews followed. Ebert’s occupation gave him the opportunity to do what he loved most; watch movies, and then use his expert journalistic skills to write about what he just witnessed.
Strangely, although a serious movie critic by every standard, Roger Ebert became friends with soft porn filmmaker Russ Meyer, and the two of them were responsible for BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, BENEATH THE VALLEY OF THE ULTRA-VIXENS, UP! and other screenplays. Roger Ebert also was responsible for the comic Sex Pistols movie, WHO KILLED BAMBI? The soundtrack album for this film was pretty funny as well, with many comic moments and outrageous songs.
Roger Ebert and a rival film critic at the CHICAGO TRIBUNE, Gene Siskel, formed an unlikely alliance to start hosting a movie critic show back in 1975 which later led to their long running syndicated TV show. The two seemed like an unlikely duo because Gene Siskel was often very condescending when Ebert disagreed with him. They seemed much more like friendly enemies than anything, yet the two had a long-running relationship as co-hosts.
But, compared to the more stuffy style of Gene Siskel, Roger Ebert was more likely to view films as many in the public would, and seemed a much more approachable person by far. Roger Ebert seemed like the kind of guy you’d like to have a drink with. A great guy.
Roger Ebert was a urban raised phenomenon, who held to strongly Democratic Party views and political liberalism, and married an African American lawyer, Charlie “Chaz” Hammelsmith. Ebert was a former Catholic who later became an agnostic, and like many in Chicago, was an early strong supporter of Barack Obama.
His wife stayed loyal and close to her husband throughout his illness and now death. Both Roger Ebert and his wife always had broad smiles in public, and were two of the best loved of Chicago celebrity royalty.
Roger Ebert will be greatly missed. He was a one of a kind legend. One of the great film critics and journalists of all time. He was as much of a legend as the films he reviewed, even making those few screenplay contributions of his own, to be critically reviewed by others.
Here’s to you Roger, I’ll give your life and career one big “thumbs up”!