“I will pass away sooner than most people who read this, but that doesn’t shake my sense of wonder and joy.”
– Roger Ebert
By Joe Korba
Film critic, journalist, and screenwriter Roger Ebert died yesterday at age 70, following a recurrence of the thyroid cancer he fought so bravely and publicly. He announced on his blog just a day prior to his passing that he was taking a ‘leave of presence’ and cutting back on his prolific work.
Ebert’s film reviews were syndicated in over 200 newspapers in the United States and abroad. Despite having the most famous thumb in television history, Ebert was a writer and journalist first. He began his journalism career at Chicago Sun-Times in 1966 and never left. In 1975 Ebert, and his often-bitter rival at the paper Gene Siskel, began their television career on a local public station in Chicago with the review show Sneak Previews. Siskel and Ebert had a caustic chemistry that translated well to the broadcast medium. They attracted greater attention, landing a national program, At the Movies, on PBS and then later in syndication. To call Ebert our nation’s preeminent film critic isn’t hyperbolic. He transformed critique to an art form; his opinions shaped the viewing habits of generations of film buffs and casual moviegoers alike.
Ebert’s writing dripped with sardonic wit and humor, one of his most memorable was a take-down of actor Rob Schneider who published full page ads in the L.A. times decrying film critic Patrick Goldstein for ‘insulting’ his film Deuce Bigalow:European Gigolo. After Schneider publicly trashed Goldstein for not having journalism awards and other perceived slights, Ebert’s defense of his critic brethren was simple, concise, and biting: “As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Price, and so I am qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks.”
After complications from thyroid cancer took his ability to speak in 2006, Ebert gained a huge online following with his blog posts on everything from the film industry to politics and observations about life. He wrote about death and about the extraordinary love for his amazing wife, Chaz Ebert, who stuck with him through his many tribulations. He, touchingly, wrote this about his wife on their 20th anniversary last year; “She fills my horizon, she is the great fact of my life…” Ebert often said that without Chaz’s support he would have drifted away into loneliness and isolation after being diagnosed with cancer.
“So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I’ll see you at the movies,” was how Ebert ended his final blog post a mere 48-hours before passing on. Ebert’s career casts a long shadow over not only film criticism, but also the art of writing itself. To paraphrase something another renowned critic wrote decades ago; “All great art is a love letter to humanity.” Indeed, Roger Ebert left us all countless love letters during his long career, not only to film, but also to life and humanity.