Many of us grew up watching and reading Roger Ebert’s film reviews, which were syndicated all over the country. For many people, his opinions guided their movie-going habits, and a thumbs-down from him meant that a film was not worth paying the admission price for.
In 1975, Ebert and fellow movie critic Gene Siskel, both from Chicago, launched their TV program Coming Soon To a Theater Near You. The local program was a surprise hit and morphed into the nationally syndicated At the Movies and finally into Siskel & Ebert & The Movies. The pair was famous for their trademark “thumbs up/ thumbs down” reviews, and for their often passionate on-screen debates about movies. Their jibes at each other made the show more entertaining. After Siskel died, he was replaced by a younger critic named Richard Roeper, who never quite had the same chemistry with Ebert as Siskel did. Ebert wrote many books on the subject of film. He became the first film critic ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism. He was also the first critic to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
He battled thyroid and salivary gland cancer for years, and lost his jaw in 2006. He continued writing and blogging about films, although he was saddened that he could no longer speak to fans at Film Festivals, which he loved to do. He described himself as “a fan first” and a critic second.
When he knew the end was approaching, he was philosophical and accepting about his fate. He wrote, “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. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. 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.”
His last published work was his “Leave of Presence” article, when he announced he was planning to end his review column and only write sporadically. He signed off with his trademark phrase “I’ll see you at the movies,” with which he used to end his show At the Movies. He passed away soon after.
There has never been another critic quite like Roger Ebert. He connected with fans in the same way that the actors and directors he wrote about did. He was a celebrity in the way other critics could only aspire to be. His writing was more fluid, stylish and amusing than his peers. Roger Ebert was one of a kind.
Whenever a new film comes out, I still wonder what Roger Ebert would have had to say about it. Even when I disagreed with him, I always enjoyed hearing his point-of-view.
We still miss you, Roger. R.I.P.