Thursday, April 11, 2013

Roger Ebert Dead at 70 Years Old

You don't have to be a film critic or fanatic to know who Roger Ebert is and the impact he's had on the industry. In over 40 years of writing for the Chicago Sun-Times he's reviewed an average of 200 films a year and there was nothing he loved more. In 2002 he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and has been battling ever since,  but in 2013 his cancer returned and ended his life last Thursday at 70 years old.

"I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state ... I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You can't say it wasn't interesting" 
- Roger Ebert

If you're not familiar with Roger Ebert, he was the creator of the "thumbs up/thumbs down" rating system with his partner Gene Siskel. In 1975 his work earned him a Pulitzer Prize—the first movie critic to do so—and that's when the show Sneak Previews debuted with another Chicago critic, Gene Siskel. Their "thumbs up" rating system was an instant trademark and in 1986 they made the popular TV show Siskel and Ebert and The Movies, later shortened to Siskel and Ebert. The show aired from 1986-1999 when Gene Siskel died from a brain tumor. 

Here's a classic clip of the two reviewing The Crow (1994):

Ebert continued the show with Richard Roeper  until 2006 when the cancer spread to his salivary glands and took away his voice and ability to eat. I'm not a fan of Roeper's style of reviewing but the two did have some memorable disagreements like the clip below.

Last week Ebert worried many with an article he posted called "A Leave of Presence". In it he says that last year he wrote 306 movie reviews, the most of his career and stating that "he must slow down". He also announced that his cancer has returned but that he would still be doing selective reviews but leaving the rest to other critics he trusts and "admires". The note seemed like a farewell of sorts with the last line reading, "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." 

Gene Siskel (left) and Roger Ebert (Right) "At The Movies".
Ebert's battle with cancer (including multiple surgeries) took away his ability to eat, drink or speak. His spirit never faltered in years of good and bad movies. His wife Chaz supported him tremendously throughout his many surgeries, including the major one in 2006 which removed his lower jaw and his ability to eat or speak. Aside from Esquire's great editorial about him, titled Roger Ebert: The Essential Man in 2010, Oprah did an in-depth interview with him and his wife Chaz the same year about their much secluded life. (Check out both parts here and here)

"Nobody's perfect, we have to find peace with the way we look and get on with life" 
- Roger Ebert

The best part of those interviews was Ebert's ability to communicate with his computer and a software that replicated his voice and his wife's tearful reaction. Ebert's spirit in the midst of his circumstances is truly inspiring. Although he was physically handicapped many movie lovers like myself rejoiced in the fact that his voice was still very much alive in his reviews (Check out his re-launched website here).

Thank you Roger for teaching a generation about movies, nothing can stop my appreciation for your work and the work of good movies and to continue in the underrated tradition of criticism. I'll see you at the movies Roger. 

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