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Roger Ebert, america's movie critic, dead at 70 , after battle with cancer

1:21 PM, Apr 6, 2013   |    comments
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(ABC NEWS) -- Roger Ebert, a Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic who reached celebrity status in the 1980s and '90s hosting popular syndicated film review programs, has died, The Chicago Sun-Times reported. He was 70 years old.

Since 2002, Ebert endured several bouts with cancer, resulting in invasive surgeries that left him severely debilitated.

"We were getting ready to go home today for hospice care, when he looked at us, smiled, and passed away," said his wife, Chaz Ebert, in a written statement. "No struggle, no pain, just a quiet, dignified transition."

In 2006, complications from thyroid cancer treatment took Ebert's jaw, stripping him of his ability to talk, eat and drink.

"I looked like the thing that jumps out of that guy's intestines in 'Alien,'" Ebert jokingly wrote of his condition in his 2011 memoir, "Life Itself."

On Wednesday, Ebert announced that he was taking a "leave of presence" after a "painful fracture" that made it difficult for him to walk revealed new cancer.

Though he established himself as a film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times during the late 1960s and early '70s, Ebert thrived at television.

During a span of 23 years that began in 1975, he co-hosted "Sneak Previews," "At the Movies" and "Siskel and Ebert," with fellow film critic, the late Gene Siskel. The programs cultivated an ardent following and were nominated for numerous Primetime Emmy Awards.

Each show was popular with TV audiences and film buffs and widely syndicated, establishing Ebert as America's movie critic. Unlike print, the television format highlighted Ebert's on-camera persona. And the show's format of dueling narrative critiques from reviewers at opposing newspapers suited him perfectly.

Rotund and effervescent, the programs pitted Ebert against co-host Gene Siskel, his slender, urbane counterpart. The pair provided such sharp criticisms that viewers sometimes thought veered close to personal attacks. The pair insisted this was mostly an act rather than a feud.

The shows helped pioneer a new culture of argument in movie review programs which, until then, was often relegated to political talk shows.

President Obama said the "movies won't be the same without Roger."

"Michelle and I are saddened to hear about the passing of Roger Ebert. For a generation of Americans - and especially Chicagoans - Roger was the movies," Obama said in a statement. "When he didn't like a film, he was honest; when he did, he was effusive - capturing the unique power of the movies to take us somewhere magical. Even amidst his own battles with cancer, Roger was as productive as he was resilient - continuing to share his passion and perspective with the world."

Ebert was born and raised as an only child in Urbana, Ill. His interest in writing and journalism began in high school, where he rose to become a sports writer and, later, co-editor of the school newspaper.

His college years were filled with academic and professional accolades: He was an editor and columnist for his college newspaper, The Daily Illini, president of the United States Student Press Association, a teenage sportswriter for The News-Gazette in Champaign, Ill., and the winner of a Rotary fellowship for a year of study at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

While pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 1966, Ebert landed his first staff newspaper job on the city desk at the Chicago Sun-Times. A year later, after writing a series of well-received feature articles, he was named the paper's film critic.

The move forced him to drop is doctorate studies to focus full-time on writing. That decision paid off in 1975 when Ebert became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize.

With his influential newspaper column and a rising on-air personality, Roger Ebert emerged to be America's foremost authority on movies. His TV shows managed to make the academic, often erudite profession of film criticism accessible and entertaining to the masses.

"Film commentary was only one of several gifts," Jim Kirk, editor in chief of Sun-Times Media, said in a prepared statement released after Ebert's death. "He was a reporter first, in every aspect of his craft. He could write as eloquently about world affairs as he could on the upcoming blockbuster. Roger will be missed not only by the Sun-Times family, but by the journalism and film communities. Our thoughts are with Roger's wife, Chaz, and their family during this time."

By 2005, the heights of his celebrity included becoming the first film critic to be awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He also went on to write several film screenplays and more than a dozen books, including widely read film anthologies and a memoir, in 2011, that reached the New York Times Best-Sellers list.

Ebert's first bout with cancer began in 2002, when he was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer. Though doctors successfully removed the cancer in 2003, he later underwent surgery for cancer in his salivary gland. The four-week radiation treatment that followed that surgery altered his voice slightly.

More surgery came in 2006 at age 64. That procedure removed additional cancerous tissue near his right jaw, which included removing a section of jaw bone. The result left Ebert unable to speak, eat or drink. He later admitted to fans that he was forced to use a feeding tube.

"In earlier years I would have found this idea horrifying," he wrote in his journal for the Chicago Sun-Times. "Not so much now that I need it to stay alive."

Though he lost his voice in a 2006 surgery, Ebert continued to be a prolific writer. His film column still appeared regularly in The Chicago Sun-Times and his reviews were syndicated in more than 200 newspapers worldwide. He also presided over a blog, rogerebert.com, which was packed daily with news, reviews and attracted a large following.

After a series of surgeries and painful recovery, in 2010 Ebert mused about death, writing, in part, "I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear."

He added, "What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder, and laughter. You can't say it wasn't interesting."

Ebert is survived by his wife, Chaz, who today remembered him as "a beloved husband, stepfather to Sonia and Jay, and grandfather to Raven, Emil, Mark and Joseph.

"Just yesterday," she wrote in her statement to ABC News, "he was saying how his grandchildren were 'the best things in my life.' He was happy and radiating satisfaction over the outpouring of responses to his blog about his 46th year as a film critic. But he was also getting tired of his fight with cancer, and said if this takes him, he has lived a great and full life.

"I am devastated by the loss of my love, Roger -- my husband, my friend, my confidante and oh-so-brilliant partner of over 20 years," she said. "He fought a courageous fight. I've lost the love of my life 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."

In his memoir, Ebert wrote of the deep love of his marriage.

"She continues to make my life possible, and her presence fills me with love and a deep security," he wrote in the book. "That's what a marriage is for. Now I know."

 

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