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Also Known As: Roger Joseph Ebert, R. Hyde Died:
Born: June 18, 1942 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Urbana, Illinois, USA Profession: critic, author, screenwriter

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

America's most influential and widely recognized film critic, Roger Ebert transported the movie review from the back of the newspaper into the living room, making film criticism a component of modern social intercourse for the masses. Hailing from central Illinois, he parlayed a love for film and journalism into a career as a staff critic at The Chicago Sun-Times in the late 1960s, a position he would maintain throughout his illustrious career. Adding to his growing reputation was a screenplay for the Russ Meyer exploitation classic "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" (1970), a Pulitzer Prize in 1975, and a little movie review show on local Chicago television alongside competing film critic Gene Siskel of The Chicago Tribune. That program would soon morph into the nationally syndicated "Siskel & Ebert" (1986-1999) on which Ebert and his apparent arch-nemesis influenced cinematic tastes as they bickered and bantered, ultimately giving movies their iconic votes of "thumbs up" or "thumbs down." Although devastated by Siskel's death from a brain tumor in 1999, Ebert soldiered on with new review partners on further iterations of the show until a debilitating battle with cancer that began in 2002 eventually...

America's most influential and widely recognized film critic, Roger Ebert transported the movie review from the back of the newspaper into the living room, making film criticism a component of modern social intercourse for the masses. Hailing from central Illinois, he parlayed a love for film and journalism into a career as a staff critic at The Chicago Sun-Times in the late 1960s, a position he would maintain throughout his illustrious career. Adding to his growing reputation was a screenplay for the Russ Meyer exploitation classic "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" (1970), a Pulitzer Prize in 1975, and a little movie review show on local Chicago television alongside competing film critic Gene Siskel of The Chicago Tribune. That program would soon morph into the nationally syndicated "Siskel & Ebert" (1986-1999) on which Ebert and his apparent arch-nemesis influenced cinematic tastes as they bickered and bantered, ultimately giving movies their iconic votes of "thumbs up" or "thumbs down." Although devastated by Siskel's death from a brain tumor in 1999, Ebert soldiered on with new review partners on further iterations of the show until a debilitating battle with cancer that began in 2002 eventually led to the reviewer's departure from television. Though physically impaired, Ebert continued his criticism in the paper and online with renewed vigor, proving that while the disease had robbed him of his voice, his incisive wit and intelligence remained intact. He continued his ongoing fight with cancer until his death at age 70 in April of 2013.

Born June 18, 1942 and raised in Urbana, IL, Ebert developed an interest early on in movies and writing, contributing to science-fiction fanzines in his teens. At Urbana High School, he was a sports writer for The News-Gazette in Champaign, IL. During his senior year, he was co-editor of his school newspaper, The Echo. He was already demonstrating outstanding talent in 1958, when he won the Illinois High School Association state speech championship in Radio Speaking, with his mock broadcast. While Ebert was best known later on for his work in television, he was a consummate newsman, cultivating strong interests in all facets of journalism, beginning with newspapers and radio. Ebert went on to college at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and was editor of the student newspaper, The Daily Illini. He was also a member of the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity. Upon earning his degree, he continued with a graduate study in English under a fellowship at the University of Cape Town. He was a candidate for an English doctorate when fate intervened, setting the course for his life from that point on. He was offered a job as film critic for The Chicago Sun-Times, one of the Windy City's two major newspapers - the other being The Chicago Tribune - a job he continued to hold through all the decades of his television notoriety. As his popularity grew with the high-profile position, Ebert became a powerful local voice for film studies and criticism, serving as a guest lecturer for the University of Chicago by teaching a night class on film.

Like many movie followers, Ebert eventually stuck his toe into the screenwriting pool, teaming up in 1970 with fabled flesh-peddling filmmaker Russ Meyer to co-write his only produced feature screenplay, "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls." Meyer had helmed the original camp classic, based on the novel by Jacqueline Susann. Both films told the story of starlets coming into their own in show business; the second film was considered a pastiche of the first, more than a sequel. Although the follow-up was a critical failure, both developed a cult following. In 1975, his work landed him the honor of being the first film critic to earn the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. The following year, he began co-hosting a weekly movie review TV show, "Sneak Previews," along with Gene Siskel, the critic for rival newspaper, The Chicago Tribune. The show aired on the local WTTW Chicago station, and was picked up by PBS for national distribution in 1978, where it went on to garner the highest ratings for a weekly public television show. In 1982, Siskel and Ebert became so popular that they moved on to a syndicated, commercial version of the show with a similar format, called, "At the Movies." After a few years, the Emmy-nominated show switched to "Siskel & Ebert" (1986-1999), with their "thumbs up/thumbs down" reviewing style beginning to catch on and become part of the cultural lexicon.

Almost a bigger draw for viewers than the actual criticisms was the constant on-air bickering between the polar opposite critics - one being short and rotund, the other tall and balding. Their appearances, coupled with their sometimes catty back-and-forth, often became fodder for comedy sketch programs. They were even encouraged to debate each other when serving as guests on late-night talk shows. The two were so conjoined in the public's mind that they were rarely asked to appear apart from each other. At times their banter seemed to verge on the edge of real hostility, as each joked that he could not stand the other outside of work. However, this was allegedly far from true, and Ebert was one of the people most devastated when his partner fell ill at the peak of their TV success. In 1998, Siskel underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor. He announced in early 1999 that he was taking a leave of absence, but that he expected to be back by the fall, writing in his column, "I'm in a hurry to get well because I don't want Roger to get more screen time than I." Unfortunately, he died from complications of the surgery two weeks later, at the age of 53. Ebert, who attended the funeral, was rattled far more than perhaps even he had thought possible at the loss of his professional sparring partner of over two decades.

Following Siskel's death, Ebert hosted the show on his own, under the title, "Roger Ebert & the Movies" on ABC, with a variety of revolving co-hosts, until fellow columnist Richard Roeper was selected as permanent co-host in the fall of 2000. Both would go on to host annual Oscar pre- and post-ceremony telecasts on ABC each year, while at the same time, their new partnership christened a new show titled "Ebert & Roeper" (2001-07). Ebert's newspaper reviews were reprinted in a series of collections, and he also wrote both serious analyses of movies, such as both volumes of The Great Movies and humorous critiques, such as I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie and Ebert's Bigger Little Movie Glossary, which featured common movie clichés.

With the success of "Ebert & Roeper," as well as the accomplishment of being the only film critic to ever receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in June of 2005, Ebert maintained a highly public profile, not only in print, but also online. On his website, he interacted with readers in a question/answer format, and was often taken to task by film buffs who pointed out inconsistencies in his views. He defended himself by pointing out that his reviews are all relative, and that only movies of similar styles and genres should be compared with one another. He has also provided audio commentary tracks on the DVDs of a number of movies for which he felt strongly, including 1941's "Citizen Kane" (the one movie he declared as his pick if stranded on an island), "Casablanca" (1942), "Dark City" (1998) and "Crumb" (1994).

As he upped his visibility in all mediums, his personal life had always remained relatively low-key. In 1992, Ebert married trial attorney Chaz Hammelsmith, gaining a stepdaughter and two step-grandchildren with the union. Unfortunately, beginning in 2002, Ebert began suffering from a series of health problems. He underwent surgery to remove cancer of his thyroid gland and again a year later for cancer in his salivary gland. In late 2003, he also underwent radiation treatment for several weeks as a follow-up, but despite a slightly noticeable change in his voice, he stayed on the job and continued to review movies on his show. In the late spring of 2006, Ebert again underwent surgery for cancer of his salivary gland, which had reoccurred. He was then hospitalized a short time later when a blood vessel burst near the place of his surgery. By mid-summer he was stabilized and doing well, but Ebert filmed enough TV programs with his co-host to keep him on the air for several weeks. However, his extended convalescence necessitated a series of "guest critics" to co-host with Roeper, including Jay Leno, Kevin Smith, John Ridley and Toni Senecal.

Although Ebert's health had indeed improved from the earlier life-threatening episode, the cancer had since spread to his mandible. Multiple surgical procedures followed, attempting to rebuild part of his jawbone and throat using tissue and bone scraped from his back, arm and legs. Unfortunately these attempts proved unsuccessful, resulting in a drooping appearance in his decimated jawline. Additionally, a tracheostomy procedure robbed the film critic of his voice and the multiple operations over the course of the year left him substantially weakened. After months of rehabilitation, Ebert made his first public appearance in 2007 at the Ninth Annual Ebertfest - a film festival in which he highlighted unjustly overlooked movies. Proactively responding to the inevitable questions about the wisdom of letting himself be seen in such a deteriorated physical condition, Ebert simply stated, "We spend too much time hiding illness." That same year the indomitable critic returned to reviewing duties on his website and for The Chicago Sun-Times, once again appraising new releases, as well as several of the films that had premiered during his lengthy convalescence.

In January 2008, Ebert underwent additional surgery in an attempt to deal with complications connected to the previous procedures and to hopefully restore his voice. Although the outlook was initially promising, in April of that year a statement was released announcing that the surgery had proved unsuccessful and that Ebert's voice had not been restored. Still cancer-free, but unwilling to endure further taxing medical procedures, the critic opted instead for a customized computer text-to-speech software program, which he later utilized in an interview with longtime friend Oprah Winfrey. In recognition of his years of service as one of the country's leading proponents of film, Ebert was made an honorary lifetime member of the Directors Guild of America at an annual award ceremony in January 2009. Less reverential was Disney Television's announcement they would be canceling "At the Movies" after airing its final episode in August 2010. As undeterred as ever, Ebert quickly announced that he would be launching a new program similar in format to "At the Movies" early the following year.

In January 2011, a prosthetic chin was manufactured for Ebert by the University of Illinois after a two-year development process involving a team of doctors, reconstruction experts, and an artist. The resulting facsimile would be worn by the revered film critic on his latest television venture, the previously announced "Ebert Presents: At the Movies" (PBS, 2011-12). Co-hosted by film critics Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, Ebert appeared separately on a segment called "Roger's Office," during which his reviews were read by renowned broadcaster Bill Kurtis. Unfortunately, this latest television venture lasted less than a year before a lack of financing forced it to shut down production and go on indefinite hiatus. Meanwhile, Ebert continued with his prolific output of film criticism in the pages of the Sun-Times, on his website and through Twitter. In early 2013, he announced that his cancer had returned and that he was taking a "leave of presence." Unfortunately, this leave proved to be final; Ebert died on April 4, 2013, mere days after blogging about his various planned new ventures. A restless thinker and writer right up until the very end, Ebert left behind a singular legacy of film criticism that is unparalleled in its breadth and scope.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1958:
Worked as reporter for <i>News-Gazette</i> in Champaign-Urbana, IL
1967:
Began serving as critic and contributor for <i>Chicago Sun-Times</i>
1969:
Lectured in film criticism at University of Chicago
1970:
Film writing debut (also co-story), Russ Meyer's "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls"
1975:
Became first ever film critic to win Pulitzer Prize
1975:
Co-hosted "Sneak Previews" (PBS) with Gene Siskel
1979:
Used pseudonym R. Hyde for co-writing credit in Russ Meyer's "Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens"
1981:
Founded Ebert Company, Ltd.; also served as president
1982:
Co-hosted "At the Movies" with Gene Siskel (Syndicated)
1986:
Began co-hosting popular film review show "Siskel & Ebert" (Syndicated)
1999:
After Gene Siskel's untimely death, series renamed "Roger Ebert & the Movies"
2000:
Joined by fellow Chicago-based critic Richard Roeper as co-host of "Ebert & Roeper at the Movies" (Syndicated)
2005:
Received star on Hollywood Walk of Fame
2010:
Made executive producing debut with syndicated program "Ebert Presents: At the Movies"; also hosted
2011:
Published <i>Life Itself: A Memoir</i>
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

University of Illinois: Urbana , Illinois - 1964

Notes

In February 2002, he underwent surgery to remove a cancerous growth from his thyroid.

"I go out of my way to see subtitled films, documentaries and independent films," he said. "I'm the only critic who virtually reviews almost everything he can."---Ebert to CNN May 20, 2004

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Chaz Hammel-Smith. Trial lawyer. Together since c. 1989; married June 18, 1992 on his 50th birthday; previously married and mother of two adult children Sonia and Jay.

Bibliography close complete biography

"Werner Herzog: Images at the Horizon" Baseline Books
"A Kiss Is Still a Kiss" Andrews McMeel Publishing
"Perfect London Walk" Andrews McMeel Publishing
"Two Weeks in the Midday Sun: A Cannes Notebook" Andrews McMeel Publishing
"Future of the Movies: Interviews with Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas" Andrews McMeel Publishing
"Behind the Phantom's Mask: A Serial" Andrews McMeel Publishing
"Computer Insectiary: A Field Guide to Viruses, Bugs, Worms, Trojan Horses, and Other Stuff That Will Eat Your Programs and Rot Your Brain" Andrews McMeel Publishing
"Ebert's Little Movie Glossary" Andrews McMeel Publishing
"Roger Ebert's Book of Film: From Tolstoy to Tarantino, the Finest Writing from a Century of Film" W.W. Norton & Co.
"Questions for the Movie Answer Man" Andrews McMeel Publishing
"Ebert's Bigger Little Movie Glossary" Andrews McMeel Publishing
"I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie" Andrews McMeel Publishing
"The Great Movies" Broadway
"Las Grandes PelíCulas" Ma Non Troppo
VIEW COMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY

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