Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times writer famous for his movie critiques, died on Thursday of complications from cancer. He was 70 years old.
Ebert was well-known as one of the most influential critics in the history of film. The first recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, Ebert teamed with Chicago Tribune critic Gene Siskel to create “At the Movies,” which made both men household names.
Ebert had held those views for quite a long time; in 1976, he questioned Martin Scorsese about feminist themes in the director’s works. His passion for these views became evident, however, after illness robbed Ebert of his ability to speak.
In 2002, Ebert was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. He underwent surgery and radiation treatment, which was successful in delaying the spread of the cancer. However, in 2006, Ebert underwent further surgery to remove more cancerous tissue near and in his jaw bone. On July 1 of that year, he suffered a bursting of his carotid artery, which nearly killed him. The rupture was related to the radiation therapy he had endured.
Ebert had a tracheotomy and had a feeding tube installed; he would never eat or speak again, something he wrote movingly about in 2012:
It may be personal, but for, unless I’m alone, it doesn’t involve dinner if it doesn’t involve talking. The food and drink I can do without easily. The jokes, gossip, laughs, arguments and shared memories I miss. Sentences beginning with the words, “Remember that time?” I ran in crowds where anyone was likely to break out in a poetry recitation at any time. Me too. But not me anymore. So yes, it’s sad. Maybe that’s why I enjoy this blog. You don’t realize it, but we’re at dinner right now.
Despite losing his ability to speak, Ebert resumed working as a critic and writing a blog at the Chicago Sun-Times site. Ebert used his blog not just to talk about film, but about his feelings on politics, religion and life. He told Esquire in 2010 that he enjoyed writing, because “When I am writing my problems become invisible and I am the same person I always was. All is well. I am as I should be.”
Ebert wrote prolifically on his blog, using his writing to advocate against “racebending” in film, oppose anti-LGBT tendencies in the Catholic Church and call out Mitt Romney for his opposition to equal pay for equal work. He remained active right up until his death; in his last post at the Sun-Times, Ebert said that he was going to take “a leave of presence” to undergo further treatment for cancer, but listed a number of projects that he was working on, including a relaunch of “At the Movies.” He closed by saying, “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 is survived by his wife, Chaz Hammelsmith Ebert.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons