Roger Ebert, the legendary film critic, died today, his long-time employer, The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.
Ebert had been wrestling with cancer for years. Over his life, he was treated for salivary gland cancer, thyroid cancer and cancer of the jawbone. In 2006, Ebert lost his jaw and with it, his ability to talk, but he still kept up an unrelenting pace, reviewing more than 200 movies a year for the paper and keeping up an admired digital presence. On his blog and on twitter, he chronicled his struggle with cancer and just two days ago, he penned a post saying he was taking a "leave of presence."
Ebert was 70.
"At this point in my life, in addition to writing about movies, I may write about what it's like to cope with health challenges and the limitations they can force upon you," he wrote. "It really stinks that the cancer has returned and that I have spent too many days in the hospital. So on bad days I may write about the vulnerability that accompanies illness. On good days, I may wax ecstatic about a movie so good it transports me beyond illness."
Back in 2011, Ebert spoke with NPR's Melissa Block. He had just written a memoir titled Life Itself. Ebert spoke through a digital voice on his computer.
Melissa asked him about what most people will remember him by: His television show with Gene Siskel, in which the two of them would give films thumbs up and thumbs down.
"We were often angry with one another," he told Melissa. "At other times we were very warm. I think we shared a strong sense of morality about films that offended us, either by their content or their general stupidity."
Perhaps Ebert's greatest accomplishment was his 1975 Pulitzer Prize. He was the first film critic to win one.
He reviewed films for the Sun-Times for 46 years and on TV for 31. The Chicago Sun-Times' obit says Ebert was not only "widely popular" but "professionally respected."
They point out that the critic gig came out of nowhere. He was offered the job at the Sun-Times when "the previous critic, Eleanor Keen, retired."
"I didn't know the job was open until the day I was given it," the paper quotes Ebert as saying. "I had no idea. Bob Zonka, the features editor, called me into the conference room and said, 'We're gonna make you the movie critic.' It fell out of the sky."
Update at 4:50 p.m. ET. Reactions:
Reaction to Ebert's death is streaming in:
-- "Roger was the movies," President Obama said about Ebert 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. The movies won't be the same without Roger, and our thoughts and prayers are with Chaz and the rest of the Ebert family."
-- The New York Times film critic, A.O. Scott tweeted a link to a 2008 piece he wrote about Ebert. Scott was smitten, writing:
"It is this print corpus that will sustain Mr. Ebert's reputation as one of the few authentic giants in a field in which self-importance frequently overshadows accomplishment. His writing may lack the polemical dazzle and theoretical muscle of Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris, whose names must dutifully be invoked in any consideration of American film criticism. In their heyday those two were warriors, system-builders and intellectual adventurers on a grand scale. But the plain-spoken Midwestern clarity of Mr. Ebert's prose and his genial, conversational presence on the page may, in the end, make him a more useful and reliable companion for the dedicated moviegoer."
Scott also tweeted: "Ebert was singular. We are all in his shadow and his debt."
-- Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel said in a statement: "The final reel of his life may have run through to the end, but his memory will never fade."
-- The writer Greg Mitchell used Ebert's own writing to reflect on the film critic. he pointed to a 2011 piece Ebert wrote for Salon. It was titled, "I do not fear death."
"I have no desire to live forever. The concept frightens me. I am 69, have had cancer, will die sooner than most of those reading this. That is in the nature of things. In my plans for life after death, I say, again with Whitman:
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.