Chicagoans remember Roger Ebert | Vigil at Gene Siskel Film Center in the Loop

April 5, 2013 4:16:19 PM PDT
Chicagoans are remembering legendary film critic Roger Ebert after he lost his battle with cancer Thursday.

A vigil for the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic will be held at the Gene Siskel Film Center in the Loop Friday morning.

It was a way to pay their respects to a man who despite publicly struggling with cancer seemed like he would live forever.

"More importantly we want to signify that Mr. Ebert your life was important, your life gave people courage," an organizer of the vigil Ziff Sistrunk said.

Television made Ebert a huge celebrity- often better known than the actors he wrote about. But he resisted suggestions to move to Hollywood, saying he was proud to be a Chicagoan.

Fellow Chicagoans expressed sadness over his death.

"He was an intellectual. He did have the soul of a poet. But he also had the ability as did Royko to communicate with the guy who picks up the paper," said Rick Kogan, Chicago Tribune.

The former executive producer of "At the Movies", David Plummer, is amazed by the outpouring of love for Ebert.

"President obama issued a statement and a lot of major film stars and that makes you feel good. It makes it clear how important roger was to so many people," Plummer said.

"He's probably the most important film critic that ever was and he will live forever because his reviews will live forever," said Michael Kutza, Chicago International Film Festival.

Ebert died Thursday at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago as he was getting ready to go home for hospice care, his wife, Chaz, said in a statement posted on his blog Thursday. He was 70.

Two days earlier, Ebert had announced he was undergoing radiation treatment for a recurrence of cancer.

"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 wrote Tuesday on his blog.

Despite his wide influence, Ebert considered himself "beneath everything else a fan."

"I have seen untold numbers of movies and forgotten most of them, I hope, but I remember those worth remembering, and they are all on the same shelf in my mind," Ebert wrote in his 2011 memoir titled "Life Itself."

Ebert's reviews had enormous reach and influence. He and his television partner Gene Siskel wielded enormous clout in the film industry. Two thumbs up could propel a movie to box office success, while a thumbs down could label the film a bust.

The trademark thumbs up - or thumbs down - was the main logo of the long-running TV shows Ebert co-hosted, first with Siskel of the rival Chicago Tribune and - after Siskel's death in 1999 - with Sun-Times colleague Richard Roeper.

The uncomplicated reviews were both intelligent and accessible and didn't talk down to ordinary movie fans.

"He wrote for the moviegoer. That's why the guys always kept the show in Chicago. They didn't want to become hollywood," Roeper said to Dan Proft and Bruce Wolf on WLS-AM Friday morning.

After cancer surgeries in 2006, Ebert lost portions of his jaw and the ability to eat, drink and speak. But he went back to writing full time and eventually even returned to television. In addition to his work for the Sun-Times, he became a prolific user of social media, connecting with hundreds of thousands of fans on Facebook and Twitter.

In early 2011, Ebert launched a new show, "Ebert Presents At the Movies." The show had new hosts and featured Ebert in his own segment, "Roger's Office." He used a chin prosthesis and enlisted voice-over guests or his computer to read his reviews.

Ebert's hometown embraced the film critic, hosting the annual Ebertfest film festival and placing a plaque at his childhood home.

In the years after he lost his physical voice, Ebert was embraced online. He kept up a Facebook page, a Twitter account with more than 800,000 followers and a blog, Roger Ebert's Journal.

"My blog became my voice, my outlet, my 'social media' in a way I couldn't have dreamed of," Ebert wrote in his memoir. "Most people choose to write a blog. I needed to."

Writing in 2010, he said he did not fear death because he didn't believe there was anything "on the other side of death to fear."

"I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state," he wrote. "I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You can't say it wasn't interesting."

Joining the Sun-Times part-time in 1966, he pursued graduate study at the University of Chicago and got the reviewing job the following year. His reviews were eventually syndicated to several hundred other newspapers, collected in books and repeated on innumerable websites, which would have made him one of the most influential film critics in the nation even without his television fame.

His 1975 Pulitzer for distinguished criticism was the first, and one of only three, given to a film reviewer since the category was created in 1970. In 2005, he received another honor when he became the first critic to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Statements on his passing were abundant on Thursday, including one from President Obama.

Statement by President Obama on the Passing of Roger Ebert

"Michelle and I are saddened to hear about the passing of Roger Ebert. For a generation of Americans - and especially Chicagoans - Roger was the movies. When he didn't like a film, he was honest; when he did, he was effusive - capturing the unique power of the movies to take us somewhere magical. Even amidst his own battles with cancer, Roger was as productive as he was resilient - continuing to share his passion and perspective with the world. The movies won't be the same without Roger, and our thoughts and prayers are with Chaz and the rest of the Ebert family."

Statement by Governor Pat Quinn on the Passing of Roger Ebert

"I was very saddened to hear today that my good friend Roger Ebert has passed away. I ? along with the people of Illinois ? offer condolences to his wife Chaz, with whom I had the privilege of spending some time just last week.

"Even in recent years when illness robbed him of his ability to speak, the mere act of raising his thumb brought auditoriums full of people to their feet in applause. One of my best memories was getting a 'thumbs-up' from Roger in 2011 when I proclaimed "Roger Ebert Day" at Ebertfest in Champaign.

"Roger Ebert was Everyman with a cinematographer's eye and an artist's passion. His unique gift was the ability to communicate with everyday people about all kinds of movies and ultimately, the real values of life. He was one of our best-known and most respected journalists, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize as a Chicago Sun-Times film critic, and a proud and generous graduate of the University of Illinois where he began his journalism career at the Daily Illini.

"The whole state joins me in mourning his passing. Roger Ebert was a great man. No doubt Gene Siskel is saving him a seat in the balcony upstairs."

Statement from Mayor Rahm Emanuel on the passing of Roger Ebert

"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."

Statement by Chicago Sun-Times on the Passing of Roger Ebert

"We are saddened to share the news that our longtime colleague Roger Ebert has died. He was 70. Roger has been writing for the Chicago Sun-Times for 46 years. 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."