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Roger Ebert dies at 70 after decade-long battle with cancer

By Alan Duke, CNN

LOS ANGELES (CNN) — The last hand in the “two thumbs up” film critic team, Roger Ebert, died Thursday, two days after revealing cancer returned to his body.

Ebert and Gene Siskel co-hosted the iconic review show “Siskel and Ebert At The Movies” until Siskel’s death in 1999 after a battle with a brain tumor.

The Chicago Sun-Times, the base of operations for Ebert’s syndicated reviews, announced his death at age 70.

“We were getting ready to go home today for hospice care, when he looked at us, smiled, and passed away. No struggle, no pain, just a quiet, dignified transition,” his wife, Chaz Ebert, said in a statement Thursday.

“I’ll see you at the movies,” were the last words Ebert wrote to his readers. They were published in an essay titled “Leave of Presence” on his blog Tuesday, in which he explained he was planning to slow down and reduce the number of movie reviews he wrote.

“My intent is to continue to write selected reviews but to leave the rest to a talented team of writers handpicked and greatly admired by me,” Ebert wrote. “What’s more, I’ll be able at last to do what I’ve always fantasized about doing: reviewing only the movies I want to review.”

Ebert had already lost his voice and much of his jaw after battling thyroid and salivary gland cancer.

He suffered a hip fracture in December, and it recently led to the revelations about cancer, he said.

Ebert started as the Sun-Times film critic on April 3, 1967, writing about 200 reviews each of those 46 years, he said. The last year however, was his most prolific.

“Last year, I wrote the most of my career, including 306 movie reviews, a blog post or two a week, and assorted other articles,” he said. “I must slow down now, which is why I’m taking what I like to call ‘a leave of presence.'”

Ebert: The critical critic with an open mind

Ebert, who won a Pulitzer Prize for film criticism in 1975, had a way with words and a sharp wit that is not easily matched.

– About Rob Schneider’s “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo” in 2005: “If he’s going to persist in making bad movies, he’s going to — have to grow accustomed to reading bad reviews.”

– Concerning Schneider’s reaction to another critic who panned the film: “But Schneider is correct, and Patrick Goldstein has not yet won a Pulitzer Prize. Therefore, Goldstein is not qualified to complain that Columbia financed “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo” while passing on the opportunity to participate in “Million Dollar Baby,” “Ray,” “The Aviator,” “Sideways” and “Finding Neverland.” As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize, and so I am qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks.”

Two years later, flowers showed up at Ebert’s door with a card, signed “Your Least Favorite Movie Star, Rob Schneider.”

“The bouquet didn’t change my opinion of his movie, but I don’t think he intended that,” Ebert wrote. “It was a way of stepping back. It was a reminder that in the great scheme of things, a review doesn’t mean very much. Sometimes when I write a negative review, people will say, ‘I’ll bet you can’t wait to hammer his next film.’ Not true. I would far rather praise the next film to show that I maintained an open mind.”

– A good example of Ebert’s willingness to keep an open mind comes from his review of Tom Green’s 2001 comedy “Freddy Got Fingered” of which he wrote one of his most scathing reviews:

“This movie doesn’t scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn’t the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn’t below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels.”

But after watching Green in “Stealing Harvard” a year later, Ebert revisited the film that he had awarded a rare zero stars:

“But the thing is, I remember ‘Freddy Got Fingered’ more than a year later. I refer to it sometimes. It is a milestone. And for all its sins, it was at least an ambitious movie, a go-for-broke attempt to accomplish something. It failed, but it has not left me convinced that Tom Green doesn’t have good work in him. Anyone with his nerve and total lack of taste is sooner or later going to make a movie worth seeing.”

– Reviewing “Crocodile Dundee II”: “I’ve seen audits that were more thrilling.”

– Giving no love to “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”: “To say that George Lucas cannot write a love scene is an understatement; greeting cards have expressed more passion.”

Ebert: The film philosopher

– “Every great film should seem new every time you see it.”

– “No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough.”

– “If you have to ask what it symbolizes, it didn’t.”

– “If a movie isn’t a hit right out of the gate, they drop it. Which means that the whole mainstream Hollywood product has been skewed toward violence and vulgar teen comedy.”

– “I am utterly bored by celebrity interviews. Most celebrities are devoid of interest.”

Ebert: Remembered

–Wife Chaz Ebert: “I am devastated by the loss of my love, Roger — my husband, my friend, my confidante and oh-so-brilliant partner of over 20 years. He fought a courageous fight. I’ve lost the love of my life and the world has lost a visionary and a creative and generous spirit who touched so many people all over the world. We had a lovely, lovely life together, more beautiful and epic than a movie. It had its highs and the lows, but was always experienced with good humor, grace and a deep abiding love for each other.

“Roger was a beloved husband, stepfather to Sonia and Jay, and grandfather to Raven, Emil, Mark and Joseph. Just yesterday he was saying how his grandchildren were ‘the best things in my life.’ He was happy and radiating satisfaction over the outpouring of responses to his blog about his 46th year as a film critic. But he was also getting tired of his fight with cancer, and said if this takes him, he has lived a great and full life.”

– American Film Institute president and CEO Bob Gazzale: “Roger Ebert championed the art of the moving image and by the courage of his personal example demonstrated how much movies matter. Ebert chaired the AFI AWARDS jury of critics, filmmakers and scholars who selected the year’s 10 best films in 2004. He held the gavel that day with the same enthusiasm for excellence that made his voice a force in American popular culture.”

– Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel: “Our whole city learned with sadness today of the passing of Roger Ebert, whose name was synonymous with two things: the movies and Chicago. In a Pulitzer Prize winning career that spanned more than four decades, thousands of reviews and countless acts of generosity to others, Roger championed Chicago as a center for filmmaking and critiques. With a knowledge of his subject as deep as his love for his wife Chaz, Roger Ebert will be remembered for the strength of his work, respected for his courage in the face of illness, and revered for his contribution to filmmaking and to our city. The final reel of his life may have run through to the end, but his memory will never fade.”

– Sun-Times Media Editor in Chief Jim Kirk: “The long relationship between Roger and his Sun-Times family speaks volumes about Roger’s commitment to his craft and to his fans around the world. Roger’s reviews were highly anticipated by readers and the film community. Film commentary was only one of several gifts. He was a reporter first, in every aspect of his craft. He could write as eloquently about world affairs as he could on the upcoming blockbuster. Roger will be missed not only by the Sun-Times family, but by the journalism and film communities. Our thoughts are with Roger’s wife, Chaz, and their family during this time.”

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