The world of film criticism (and anyone who loves movies for that matter) has suffered a big loss today. Legendary critic Roger Ebert has passed away at his home in Chicago, after a lengthy battle with cancer, which cost him the ability to eat, drink, or speak on his own. He is survived by his wife of over twenty years, Chaz Hammelsmith.
Ebert began his career writing reviews for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1967. He actually racked up some experience in the film business itself in the early 1970's, working with famed producer of exploitation films Russ Meyer. Ebert wrote the script for the critically panned film 'Beyond the Valley of the Dolls', a fact that he has always maintained a sense of good humor about.
Ebert's true rise to fame began in 1975, when he joined up with Chicago Tribune film critic Gene Siskel to co-host a weekly film review TV show entitled 'Sneak Previews'. The show was a local Chicago production, and aired on public TV station WTTW. In 1978, PBS picked up the series for national distribution. In 1982, the duo left public television, and embarked on a syndicated review series called 'At the Movies'. Finally, in 1986, they joined up with Buena Vista Television to create 'Siskel & Ebert and the Movies', where the show would remain for the next two decades.
The two critics became well known for their trademark "Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down" style of rating films, and for their often very contentious debates about films they disagreed on. Off camera, the two became great friends, and remained so until Siskel's death in 1999 at the age of 53. For the next year, Ebert hosted At the Movies with a rotating cast of co-hosts, until fellow Sun-Times critic Richard Roeper was picked to take over the job permanently in the fall of 2000. The show was then renamed 'At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper', and continued to be successful.
Ebert was diagnosed with cancer in 2002, and complications led him to take an extended absence from co-hosting the series in 2006. Sadly, Ebert was never well enough to resume his duties, with Roeper continuing the show with various co-hosts until fall 2008. At that point, Buena Vista decided to make drastic changes to the show, causing Ebert and Roeper to both part ways with the production completely. In 2011, Ebert created 'Ebert Presents: At the Movies'. He didn't host for obvious reasons, but appeared in a segment called 'Roger's Office', where a TV presenter such as Bill Kurtis served as his voice. This new venture was canceled in 2012 after one season.
In addition to his TV work, Ebert wrote multiple well-received books on film, and his own memoir 'Life Itself' was published in 2011. He also hosted a yearly film festival called 'Ebertfest'. Ebert continued reviewing films in print to the very end, posting reviews for recents films such as 'The Host', 'Side Effects', and 'Zero Dark Thirty'.
Whether you agreed with Ebert's opinions or not, the man's skill with the written word was second to none. The world of film criticism was better off for his continued presence, and his absence will reverberate far and wide. Goodbye Roger, your life more than earned a thumbs up.
Roger Ebert, 1942-2013, R.I.P.