Film critic Roger Ebert dies at 70 of cancer

Ebert in 1969 in the Chicago Sun-Times newsroom Ebert, shown in the Chicago Sun-Times newsroom in 1969, got his first newspaper job age 15

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Renowned American film critic Roger Ebert has died at 70 after a long battle with cancer.

Ebert, known for his thumbs-up or down reviews on a television programme with partner and friend Gene Siskel, became a film critic for the Sun-Times in 1967 and later won the Pulitzer Prize.

He was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2002, losing his jaw and his ability to speak in a subsequent surgery.

But he later resumed writing full-time and also returned to television.

On Tuesday, Ebert revealed on his popular blog that he faced a fresh bout with cancer and was taking a "leave of presence", writing fewer reviews.

He suffered a hip fracture in December that he said "had recently been revealed to be a cancer".

"It is being treated with radiation, which has made it impossible for me to attend as many movies as I used to," he wrote. But Ebert vowed to continue his work.

'Cards you're dealt'
Film critic Roger Ebert arrives to attend the Webby Awards in New York in this file photo taken 14 June  2010 Ebert, shown after a portion of his jaw was removed, was the first to win a Pulitzer Prize for film criticism

President Barack Obama, who lived most of his adult life in Chicago, praised Ebert's honesty about films he disliked - and his effusiveness about those he enjoyed - as well as the critic's ability to capture the "unique power of the movies to take us somewhere magical".

"For a generation of Americans - and especially Chicagoans - Roger was the movies," he said in a statement released by the White House.

"The movies won't be the same without Roger, and our thoughts and prayers are with Chaz and the rest of the Ebert family."

Ebert's columns were syndicated in hundreds of newspapers worldwide, and he won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in 1975 - the first film critic to do so.

In the same year, a film review show starring Ebert and cross-town rival Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune premiered on local television. Within a few years the programme - with its thumbs-up or down judgements - was broadcast nationally, making Siskel and Ebert household names in the US.

Start Quote

What's your choice? I have no pain. I enjoy life, and why should I complain”

End Quote Roger Ebert

The programme continued in various guises until Siskel's death in 1999.

Ebert was the author of more than 15 books about the movies. And he took time off from reviewing films to write one - 1970's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. He was an early investor in Google - a move that made him millions.

His TV career was curtailed in 2002 when he was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer.

A portion of his lower jaw was removed in a 2006 cancer surgery, and he lost the ability to speak, eat or drink. He turned to the internet, where his writings continued to garner enormous audiences. Wearing a prosthetic chin and with his reviews read by voice-over actors, he eventually returned to television.

His return to work in spite of his disfigurement and his illness won him praise for his bravery.

In an interview with the Associated Press news agency in 2011, Ebert said that bravery and courage "have little to do with it".

"You play the cards you're dealt,'' Ebert said. "What's your choice? I have no pain. I enjoy life, and why should I complain?"

Early writer
Movie critic Roger Ebert gives the thumbs-up after receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood in this file photo taken 23 June 2005 Roger Ebert received his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005

Roger Joseph Ebert was born in Urbana, Illinois, on 18 June 1942. He began covering high school sports for a local newspaper at 15 and was editor of his university's student newspaper.

Ebert spent a year on scholarship at the University of Cape Town in South Africa before beginning work on a doctorate in English at the University of Chicago.

Shortly after that he joined the Sun-Times part-time and was named its movie critic in 1967.

In 1992 he married lawyer Chaz Hammelsmith, whom he once called "the great fact of my life".

In his last blog, he wrote: "It really stinks that the cancer has returned and that I have spent too many days in the hospital.

"So, on bad days I may write about the vulnerability that accompanies illness. On good days, I may wax ecstatic about a movie so good it transports me beyond illness."

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