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Roger Ebert gets final ‘thumbs up’ from family, friends

By Alan Duke

CNN

(CNN) — Roger Ebert got a final “thumbs up” as family, friends and filmmakers eulogized the movie critic at his funeral in Chicago on Monday.

Hundreds gathered inside Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral, but many more watched the live telecast of the service carried by local stations and streamed online.

It is a production his widow, Chaz Ebert, said would get a good review from the late critic.

“He would have loved this,” she said. “He would love the majesty of it, he would love everything about it, he would love that you were all here for him, he would have loved everything the priests did.”

Although he’s known for reviewing films, his widow spoke about his passion for social justice.

“He really was a soldier for social justice, and it didn’t matter to him your race, creed, color, level of ability, sexual orientation — he had a heart big enough to love and accept all,” she said.

Fellow critic Richard Roeper served as one of the pallbearers, carrying Ebert’s casket into the cathedral, where dignitaries waited, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“He was the most American of American critics in the most American of American cities,” Emanuel said in his eulogy. “It was in Chicago where Roger kept his home, where he kept his heart and where he found his inspiration.”

Ebert reviewed movies for the Chicago Sun Times starting in 1967, leading to success with his syndicated column and iconic television show “Siskel and Ebert At The Movies”

“He didn’t just dominate his profession, he defined it,” Emanuel said. “LIke generations of Chicagoans, before I went to a movie I needed to find out two things: What time does it start and what does Roger think about it? Roger spent a lot of his time sitting through bad movies so that we didn’t have to. No good movie is too long and no bad movie is too short, he wrote.”

Ebert died last Thursday after a long batter with cancer.

“Life was too short for Roger to be defeated by illness, so when Roger’s body became weak, we saw how his mind become sharper,” Emanuel said. “Roger did not chose cancer. He did chose his response to it: To keep living. Rather than allow his struggle to separate himself from his readers, it became another way for Roger to relate to us. With every one of his reviews, his TV appearances, his tweets, Roger shared with us one lesson: Life is too short not to be shared with others.”

Ebert’s last year was his most productive with 306 movie reviews, compared to the normal 200 a year.

“His time with us was too short, but what he shared with us endures,” Emanuel said. “The final reel of Roger’s life may have run to the end, but his memory will never fade.”

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said Ebert was “a populist who understood that it’s the duty of all of us to take good care of those who don’t have a champion.”

“We love you Roger, we always will. Thumbs up!” Gov. Quinn said at the end.

Jonathan Jackson, son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., spoke about the impact Ebert’s reviews of black-directed films such as Spike Lee’s “School Daze” and “Do the Right Thing” had on society.

“I look at Roger as a soldier with a pen when he sat on a high perch and gave a commentary and opinion that depicted us as human, that showed us as normal in ‘School Daze,’ ” Jackson said. “He saw young black children not as problems, but as people.”

Jackson also read a message from Spike Lee: “Roger Ebert was a champion of my work and other black filmmakers at a critical time in American cinema history, Roger was one of the lone defenders of ‘Do the Right Thing’ when everybody else and their mothers were saying that black folks would run amok and riot during the summer of 1989. Roger fought the good fight. Roger fought the power.”

Former Chicago Sun Times Editor John Barron, who was Ebert’s boss for many years, said Ebert understood the changing newspaper business.

“Roger was pretty much the first with a computer,” Barron said. “He was the first with e-mail. He opened up whole new worlds with his blog and his Twitter account. Roger was 24-7 before anyone had even thought about that term. While we were all still focused on making the nightly deadline, Roger was showing us what a fully evolved newspaper man look liked. He taught us a lot and we at the Sun Times were always proud to say we worked where Roger Ebert worked. The glow that he cast was warm and wide.”

Ebert’s stepdaughter Sonia Evans spoke about Ebert the father.

“He’s the man whom we deeply loved — kind sincere warm, loving, intelligent, imaginative, transformative and just a world-class human being who exercised his gift for the world.”

“I’m the happiest when I think of how he and my mother found each other,” she said.

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