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Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert in December 2007
Born Roger Joseph Ebert
June 18, 1942(1942-06-18)
Urbana, Illinois, U.S.
Died April 4, 2013(2013-04-04) (aged 70)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Resting place Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois
Occupation Author, journalist, film historian, film critic, screenwriter
Language English
Nationality American
Ethnicity White
Citizenship American
Education Urbana High School
Alma mater University of Chicago,
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Period 1967–2013
Subjects Film
Notable work(s) The Great Movies; The Great Movies II; Beyond the Valley of the Dolls; Life Itself: A Memoir
Notable award(s) Pulitzer Prize for Criticism
Spouse(s) Chaz Hammelsmith Ebert[1]
(m. July 18, 1992 – April 4, 2013, his death)


Roger Joseph Ebert[8] (June 18, 1942[9] – April 4, 2013)[10] was an American movie critic. Ebert's reviews appear in newspapers such as the Chicago Sun-Times from April 3, 1967 until his death.

Ebert was born on June 18, 1942 in Urbana, Illinois to a Catholic family.

Ebert and Chicago Tribune critic Gene Siskel helped make nationally-televised movie reviewing popular. They co-hosted the PBS show Sneak Previews. It was followed by At the Movies which made both of them popular across the country. The two fought and made jokes while talking about movies. They created and trademarked the phrase "Two Thumbs Up," used when both hosts thought the same movie was very good. After Siskel died in 1999, Ebert continued hosting the show with various co-hosts and then, starting in 2000, with Richard Roeper.

Ebert lived with thyroid cancer since its diagnosis in 2002. He continued to publish his reviews both online and in print until April 2, 2013. Just two days later, on April 4, 2013, Ebert died from the disease in Chicago, Illinois. He was 70 years old.

Early life

Ebert was born Roger Joseph Ebert on June 18, 1942 in Urbana, Illinois. His parents were Annabel (née Stumm) and Walter H. Ebert. His ancestry was German, Dutch, and Irish. He was raised Roman Catholic, attending St. Mary's elementary school and serving as an altarboy in Urbana.[9] Ebert studied at Urbana High School, at the University of Chicago, and at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Ebert was raised in Chicago, Illinois.


Ebert began his professional critic career in 1967, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times. That same year, Ebert's first book, a history of the University of Illinois titled Illini Century: One Hundred Years of Campus Life, was published by the University's press.

In 1969, his review of Night of the Living Dead[11] was published in Reader's Digest.

Working with Russ Meyer

Ebert co-wrote the screenplay for the 1970 Russ Meyer movie Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and likes to joke about being responsible for the movie, which was poorly received on its release but is now regarded as a cult classic.[12] Ebert and Meyer also made Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens, Up!, and others, and were involved in the ill-fated Sex Pistols movie Who Killed Bambi? In April 2010, Ebert posted his screenplay of Who Killed Bambi? aka Anarchy in the UK on his blog.[13]

Roger Ebert (right) with Russ Meyer in 1970

From the 1970s, Ebert worked for the University of Chicago as a guest lecturer, teaching a night class on movies. His fall 2005 class was on the works of the German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Working with Gene Siskel

In 1975, Ebert and Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune began co-hosting a weekly movie review television show, Sneak Previews, which was locally produced by the Chicago public broadcasting station WTTW. The show was picked up by PBS in 1978 for national distribution. In 1982, the critics moved to a television program named At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, and in 1986 they left to create Siskel & Ebert & The Movies with Buena Vista Television (part of the Walt Disney Company).

The duo was known for their "thumbs up/thumbs down" review summaries. When Siskel died in 1999, the producers retitled the show Roger Ebert & the Movies with rotating co-hosts. In September 2000, fellow Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper became the permanent co-host and the show was renamed At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper.

Television show

Ebert was the co-host of the television show Ebert and Roeper (originally Siskel and Ebert), where he and another critic, originally Gene Siskel (1946-1999) and after Siskel's death, Richard Roeper, appear in and talk about new movies.

His name stayed in the title, but Ebert did not appear on the show after mid-2006, because of problems after surgery for thyroid cancer which left him unable to speak.

Ebert ended his association with the show in July 2008,[14] but in February 2009 he said that he and Roeper would continue their work on a new show.[15] Ebert was on a show called, Ebert Presents at the Movies, premiered on January 21, 2011, with Ebert appearing in a brief segment called "Roger's Office".[16]

On September 13, 2013, it was announced that fellow co-star critic Richard Roeper was to replace Ebert as the main movie critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.[17]

Movie taste

Ebert said that his favorite movie was Citizen Kane, joking, "That's the official answer", although he liked to keep saying it as "the most important" movie. He kept saying that his real favorite movie was La Dolce Vita.[18] His favorite actor was Robert Mitchum, and his favorite actress was Ingrid Bergman.[19] He expressed his general dislikes for "top ten" lists, and all movie lists in general,[18] but contributed a top ten list to the 2012 Sight and Sound Critics' poll. Listed alphabetically, those movies were 2001: A Space Odyssey; Aguirre, the Wrath of God; Apocalypse Now; Citizen Kane; La Dolce Vita; The General; Raging Bull; Tokyo Story; The Tree of Life; and Vertigo.[20]

Ebert compiled "best of the year" movie lists beginning in the 1960s, thereby helping provide an overview of his critical preferences.[21] His top choices were:

Ebert revisited and sometimes revised his opinions. After ranking E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial third on his 1982 list, it was the only movie from that year to appear on his later "Best Films of the 1980s" list (where it also ranked third). He made similar revaluations of 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark, and 1985's Ran. The Three Colors trilogy (Blue, White, and Red), and Pulp Fiction originally ranked second and third on Ebert's 1994 list; both were included on his "Best Films of the 1990s" list, but their order had reversed.[22]

Awards and honors

In 1975 Ebert became the first movie critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.[23] In 2005, Ebert became the first movie critic to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[23] Ebert's home town of Champaign, Illinois are trying to raise money for a statue in Ebert's honor.[24]

In July 2014, a documentary about Ebert's life, Life Itself, was released to very positive reviews.

Personal life

Ebert was married to Chaz Hammelsmith from July 18, 1992 until his death in 2013. They had no children. Ebert lived with Chaz in his hometown of Chicago, Illinois. He was a supporter for the Democratic Party.[25] Ebert was an agnostic.[26] On April 25, 2011, he accomplished one of his long-time goals: winning one of the weekly caption contests in The New Yorker after more than 100 tries.[27] Ebert's personal net worth was U.S. $9 million.[28]


Ebert (right) with Lillian Boutte (left) in September 2002, shortly after his cancer diagnosis

In early 2002, Ebert was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer. In February, surgeons at Northwestern Memorial Hospital successfully removed the cancer with clean margins. He later underwent surgery in 2003 for cancer in his salivary gland, and in December of that year, underwent a four-week follow-up course of radiation to his salivary glands, which altered his voice slightly. Ebert continued to be a dedicated critic of film, not missing a single opening while undergoing treatment. The cancer would eventually lead Ebert to be left in a wheelchair and unable to speak after having the total of three surgeries. Later on, experts created a translator that allows Ebert to speak whatever he types. He called his machine Sir Olivier, because how it's voice sounded like actor Laurence Olivier.


On April 18, 2008, it was announced that Ebert had fractured his hip in a fall,[29] a result of the weakening of his body following the unsuccessful tissue transplants, and had undergone surgery to repair it. In December 2012, Ebert was hospitalized with a fractured hip, which his wife Chaz jokingly blamed on "tricky disco dance moves".[30]


On April 4, 2013, Ebert died of cancer at age 70 in Chicago, Illinois according to the Chicago Sun-Times.[10] His wife Chaz said that "We were getting ready to go home today for hospice care, when he [Ebert] looked at us, smiled, and passed away." He battled cancer for 11 years.[10] The closing sentence on his final blog post, two days before his death, said, "So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I'll see you at the movies."


Ebert with Nancy Kwan in October 2010

Hundreds attended including Pat Quinn, Rahm Emanuel, and Richard Roeper in the April 8, 2013 funeral Mass held at Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral, where Ebert was celebrated as a film critic, newspaperman, advocate for social justice, husband and father. In his eulogy, the Rev. John F. Costello sought to dispel the notion that Ebert was an either non-believer, or agnostic, by invoking the movie The Hours and its observations on lives cut short; and saying that Ebert, raised Catholic, wrestled with "the mystery of faith" not as someone who rejected God but, rather, as someone forever seeking further understanding. Father Michael Pfleger concluded the service with: "the balconies of heaven are filled with angels singing `thumbs up.'" Ebert was later buried at the Graceland Cemetery in Chicago's north side.

A 2-hour-and-45-minute public tribute, entitled Roger Ebert: A Celebration of Life, was held at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 11, 2013 at the Chicago Theatre. It featured in-person remembrances, video testimonials, video and film clips, gospel choirs, and was, according to the Chicago Tribune's Mark Caro, "a laughter- and sorrow-filled send-off from the entertainment and media worlds."[31]


Ebert's death prompted wide reaction from celebrities both in and out of the entertainment industry. President Barack Obama wrote, "Roger was the movies ... [he could capture] the unique power of the movies to take us somewhere magical ... The movies won't be the same without Roger".[32][33] Robert Redford called Ebert "one of the great champions of freedom of artistic expression" and said "His personal passion for cinema was boundless, and that is sure to be his legacy for generations to come."[32] Oprah Winfrey called Ebert's death the "end of an era", as did Steven Spielberg, who also said that Ebert's "reviews went far deeper than simply thumbs up or thumbs down. He wrote with passion through a real knowledge of film and film history, and in doing so, helped many movies find their audiences... [he] put television criticism on the map".[32]


  1. Steinberg, Neil (April 4, 2013). "Roger Ebert dies at 70 after battle with cancer". Chicago Sun-Times.
  2. A. O. Scott. "Roger Ebert, the Critic Behind the Thumb" The New York Times April 13, 2008
  3. "Reelviews Movie Reviews". 2012-05-10. Retrieved 2012-06-11.
  4. Leitch, Will (March 1, 2010). "My Roger Ebert Story". Retrieved July 18, 2012.
  5. Knowles, Harry. "Why my friend, Roger Ebert is dead wrong about KICK ASS" Ain't it Cool News; April 15, 2010
  6. Ebert, Roger. Awake in the Dark: The Best of Roger Ebert (ISBN 0-226-18200-2). The University of Chicago Press, 2006. Foreword p.xiii-xix
  8. Interview with Roger Ebert; YouTube; May 20, 2008
  9. 9.0 9.1 "biography of Roger Ebert". Retrieved 2009-10-17.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 "Roger Ebert, renowned film critic, dies at age 70". CNN. April 4, 2013. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  11. Ebert’s review of Night of the Living Dead January 5, 1967
  12. Ebert, Roger. "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls". date=1980. Retrieved September 3, 2012.
  13. Ebert, Roger. ""Who Killed Bambi?" – A screenplay" Chicago Sun-Times; April 25, 2010
  14. Ebert, Roger; "Statement from Roger Ebert"; July 21, 2008
  15. Roger Ebert. "By the time we get to Phoenix, he'll be laughing"; February 18, 2009
  16. Roger Ebert returns with new PBS review show, Caryn Rousseau, Associated Press (via Deseret News), 2011-01-19. Retrieved 2011-01-20.
  17. "Richard Roeper Replacing Roger Ebert at Sun-Times". ABC Retrieved September 14, 2013.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Dumont, Aaron (September 4, 2008). "Roger Ebert. "What's your favorite movie?" Chicago Sun-Times". Retrieved October 17, 2009.
  19. "Biography page for Ebert at". Retrieved October 17, 2009.
  20. Roger Ebert (September 2012). "The Greatest Films Poll". BFI. Retrieved September 12, 2012.
  21. "Ebert's 10 Best Lists: 1967-present". Chicago Sun-Times.
  22. "Siskel and Ebert Top Ten Lists (1969 - 1998)". Retrieved November 11, 2011.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Rousseau, Caryn (April 4, 2013). "Roger Ebert, first movie critic to win Pulitzer, dies at 70". The Salt Lake Tribune.
  24. "Hometown of Roger Ebert to raise money for statue". Digital Retrieved September 14, 2013.
  25. "Ebert's political donations". September 30, 2009. Retrieved October 17, 2009.
  26. Roger Ebert (April 17, 2009). "How I believe in God". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved November 5, 2009.
  27. Roger Ebert Wins the Cartoon Caption Contest, Robert Mankoff, The New Yorker, April 25, 2011
  28. "Roger Ebert Net Worth". Celebrity Net Retrieved October 3, 2013.
  29. "Ebert recovering from hip surgery". April 18, 2008. Retrieved October 17, 2009.
  30. "Roger Ebert hospitalized with fractured hip". 3 News NZ. December 7, 2012.
  31. Caro, Mark (April 12, 2013). "Roger Ebert honored by Hollywood stars for his 'tenacity,' 'zest for life'". The Chicago Tribune: Arts & Entertainment section. Retrieved April 16, 2013.
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 "Death of film critic Ebert elicits wide reaction". Boston Herald. Associated Press. April 4, 2013. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  33. Statement by the President on the Passing of Roger Ebert - The White House Retrieved April 5, 2013

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