CHICAGO—The man who more or less gave birth to populist movie criticism succumbed today, at the age of 70, to his over decade-long battle with cancer, in the city where he spent the majority of his life penning movie reviews for leading local paper the Chicago Sun-Times.
Roger Ebert was without contest the most powerful film critic in history. Aside from his Sun-Times reviews, which were syndicated to hundreds of papers worldwide, he was a fixture on TV for over three decades with various movie review programs opposite fellow critics Gene Siskel and Richard Roeper (who replaced Siskel at Ebert's side after the former's own passing in 1999). In 1975, Ebert became the first film critic to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and exactly 30 years later, he became the first to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Even after his ailment, cancer of the thyroid and salivary gland, caused him to lose part of his jaw in 2006—which rendered him unable to speak or eat—Ebert tenaciously continued reviewing movies right up until the end, maintaining a very active presence online via his website RogerEbert.com, his Twitter feed and other cyber avenues. In fact, in his very last blog, posted Tuesday, he wrote that the last year had been the most prolific of his career.
Though Roger Ebert had no direct connections per se to the adult industry of today, he was responsible for co-writing the screenplays of several movies by late, great softcore pioneer Russ Meyer, including, most famously, 1970's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. He also reviewed a number of X-rated films during the heydey of sexploitation cinema, such as 1968's Therese and Isabelle, 1969's Vixen and Camille 2000, 1970's The Lickerish Quartet, and the same year's Alex DeRenzy classic A History of the Blue Movie. Excerpts of those reviews and others can be found here.
Moreover, Roger Ebert carved out an integral niche in the landscape of the entertainment industry at large for the people's critic, and forged a style of critiquing movies that has spawned a million imitations in the mainstream and adult spheres alike, exemplified by everything from the trademark "thumbs up/thumbs down" rating system he created with Siskel to his colloquial, often bitingly witty tone.
Today, Ebert's death is being mourned the world over, including by U.S. President Barack Obama, who issued the following statement from the White House:
"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. 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 [widow] Chaz and the rest of the Ebert family."
Read the Chicago Sun-Times' obituary for Ebert here.
Pictured: Roger Ebert (r) with Russ Meyer from Wikipedia.