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."
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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.
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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.
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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."
Roger Ebert's Early Life
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.
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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."
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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.