Roger Ebert, film critic, historian, and screenwriter, has died earlier today after a decade-long on-and-off struggle with cancer. He had only announced earlier this week that he was taking a “leave of presence” after the discovery that recurrence of cancer following a hip fracture suffered in December. He was 70.
Ebert served as the film reviewer for the Chicago Sun Times for 46 years, and in 1975, he became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. But it is with co-host Gene Siskel that Ebert came to national attention with the movie review show Sneak Previews, later known as At The Movies. As writers for competing Chicago dailies, the two had a natural rivalry that came out on screen, though over the course of the show they became fast friends. The two sometimes earned the ire of directors for the reviews. After having one of his films savaged by the duo, director Roland Emmerich stuck a parody of Siskel and Ebert into his 1998 Godzilla as the incompetent mayor of New York City and his unctuous aid. Siskel and Ebert also gave that film a bad review. After Siskel’s death in 1999, Ebert continued the show with first a rotating series of co-hosts and then Richard Roper.
Some critics decried that Siskel and Ebert’s simple “thumbs up/thumbs down” as a dumbing down of film criticism, but the pair’s lively back-and-forth discussions brought ideas on how to watch and evaluate films into America’s living rooms. Many of the current generation of online film critics have acknowledged the influence that Siskel and Ebert’s program had on them. The pair became so famous that they appeared on Late Night With David Letterman, Saturday Night Live and were even animated on The Critic.
But Ebert wasn’t merely content to just critic film, he wrote the screenplays for three films that were directed by Russ Meyers – Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens and Up!. A fourth collaboration, Who Killed Bambi?, would have featured the film debut of the punk band the Sex Pistols but it had its financing pulled by Twentieth Century Fox just as production was starting.
Ebert published some 20 books. While many of them were collections of his reviews, he also published a cook book for rice cookers, a humorous glossary of film terms, a novel titled Behind The Phantom’s Mask and his memoirs.
Perhaps prophetically and certainly fittingly, Ebert’s last published words came on Tuesday at the end of a blog post announcing the recurrence of his cancer – “I’ll see you at the movies.”