Joyful Critic Joel Siegel, Gone at 63

Surrounded by family and friends, ABC's beaming and insightful movie critic Joel Siegel has died in New York, after a long and remarkably courageous struggle with cancer, at the age of 63.

Both colleagues and fans delighted in his unique way of blending cheerful good humor and piercing critical acumen in reviews that made them instantly clear to anyone. You knew exactly what he thought — often with the bonus of a good laugh.

In a statement today, ABC News President David Westin said, "Joel was an important part of ABC News and we will miss him. He was a brilliant reviewer and a great reporter. But much more, he was our dear friend and colleague. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family."

Siegel is survived by his young son, Dylan, and wife, Ena Swansea, an artist.

Joel Siegel's battle with colon cancer was borne with such astonishing courage and humor that he almost tricked his colleagues around the office into forgetting his struggle.

  Still at work only two weeks before his death, he had this reporter and several others chortling in an elevator over a line he was about to broadcast about there being so many new penguin movies lately that soon they would outnumber the penguins themselves.

  With his trademark style — a bright but very business-like cheerfulness — Joel Siegel delivered his swift judgments with a self-confidence and wit so finely phrased it made his reviews a pleasure to listen to just for the quick precision of his language.

  He was the master of the unambiguous thumbnail review, whether delivering flowers …

  — "The Pursuit of Happyness" gets a C for spelling and an A for acting. It could also get an Oscar for Will Smith."

    — "Letters from Iwo Jima" is the only contemporary film I've ever reviewed that I felt safe calling a masterpiece. It's not about the enemy, it's about humanity, and Clint Eastwood proves you don't have to understand the language to understand the heart."

  … or bombs:

  — "The appeal of Matthew McConaughey has long evaded me both as a pinup and as an actor. His constant ticks, bad hair and strained syntax as a coach fumble what should have been the tragic and inspirational story of the rebuilding of Marshall University's football team after a devastating plane crash."

"No one had more fun writing about a bad movie than Joel," said Dave Davis, president and general manager of WABC-TV, where Siegel signed on as movie and theater critic in 1976.

  Millions learned over the decades that they could trust his judgment and his concise common sense descriptions of movies, as he held forth from the the critic's chair — which, for the past quarter-century, he did on ABC's "Good Morning America," where he was a central member of its on-air family.

  With his unparalleled skill in capturing the sense of a movie in just one or two sentences, he also accomplished something thought impossible:

 

He conquered the infamous "critics' spoiler problem," managing to give potential moviegoers just as much as they needed to know to decide whether to see it, without spoiling the movie by giving too much away.

  And then, in a remarkable departure in the last few years of his life that added great depth to his life's work, he inspired his public with his clear-eyed realism and moral strength by publishing "Lessons for Dylan: From Father to Son."

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