Roger Ebert, veteran journalist and movie critic, died today, April 4, in Chicago. He was 70. A native of Urbana, Illinois, Ebert began his career with the “Chicago Sun-Times” in 1966 and eventually became its film critic. In 1975, he became the first person to win a Pulitzer Prize for film criticism. That same year Ebert joined with fellow film critic Gene Siskel to host “Siskel & Ebert at the Movies,” a weekly TV show in which the duo previewed and rated the newest films. While their personalities often clashed, their blunt critiques of a film – couple with the infamous thumbs-up or thumbs-down routine – made them household names. It also drew scorn from many in journalism and cinema who said Siskel and Ebert trivialized film criticism. In a 1991 interview with “Playboy” magazine, Ebert conceded that his television program was “not a high-level, in-depth film-criticism show.” But, he declared that viewers can judge a film on its own merits and that “it’s O.K. to have an opinion.”
Ebert spoke out against the Motion Picture Association of America’s rating system, stating that its unevenness called it into question. He also criticized the American film community for relying too much on special effects and for not supporting documentary films. Even after Siskel died in 1999, Ebert continued his TV show, usually joined by various other film critics.
No specific cause of death was given, but Ebert had suffered from cancer since 2002. The disease robbed him of his voice and radically altered his physical appearance. But, it didn’t steal his dry wit and passion for movies.
Ebert is survived by his wife, Chaz Hammelsmith.