Roger Ebert, one of the most popular and cited movie critics of all time, passed away in Chicago on Thursday, April 4, the Chicago Sun-Times confirms. Ebert, who had been battling cancers of the thyroid and salivary gland for ten years, was 70 years old. He is survived by wife of 20 years, attorney Chaz Hammelsmith Ebert, plus a step-daughter and two step-grandchildren.
Just two days ago, on Tuesday April 2, Ebert announced on his website that he was taking a "leave of presence" from his career after his cancer had returned. "What in the world is a leave of presence? It means I am not going away. 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," he assured readers.
Ebert was first diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2002 and underwent several surgeries in the years after, and lost his voice in 2006 as a result of complications from one of the operations. Two years later, he suffered his first hip fracture after further surgery to address the previous complications and reconstruct his jaw and throat.
The Illinois native wrote film reviews for the Chicago Sun-Times for 46 years, and was the star of several popular TV programs devoted to movie criticism with the late Gene Siskel and, later, Richard Roeper. With Siskel, Ebert established the "thumbs up/thumbs down" review summary. In 1975, he became the first film critic ever to win the Pulitzer Prize, and in 2005 his name was added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
An author of 17 books of film criticism, Ebert, despite his failing health, kept up with the times, updating his eponymous website and remaining active on Twitter, with over 800,000 followers. (His final "Best Film of the Year" choice: 2012's Argo.)
Just two days before his death, Ebert wrote: "At this point in my life, in addition to writing about movies, I may write about what it's like to cope with health challenges and the limitations they can force upon you," he explained. "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 . . . 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."