Pulitzer Prize-winning US film critic Roger Ebert dies, aged 70

Ebert’s show with Gene Siskel was full of verbal sparring and thumbs up/ thumbs down reviews

Roger Ebert, the renowned US film critic who was almost as famous and wealthy as many of the stars who felt the sting or caress of his pen, died aged 70.

Described as a “critic with the soul of a poet” the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic for the Chicago Sun-Times for 45 years was named the most powerful critic in America by Forbes in 2007.

Friends said he died only two days after he said he was to limit his film reviews due to a fresh battle with cancer. Writing on his blog on Tuesday he said he planned to take what he described as a “leave of presence”. He explained: “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. I’ll be able at last to do what I’ve always fantasised about doing: reviewing only the movies I want to review.”

But tonight his office confirmed Ebert had died early in the afternoon at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

Ebert, a guest lecturer at the University of Chicago, was yesterday said to have been “prolific, almost to the point of disbelief” with the weekend section of the Sun-Times often featuring as many as nine of his interviews, profiles and reviews.

His sentiment was that “no good film is too long” but for those who failed to live up to his high expectations, “no bad movie is short enough”.

He published his own local paper while still in grammar school and later was co-editor of his high school paper. After graduating in journalism from the University of Illinois he began selling freelance stories and book reviews to the Chicago Daily News and Sun-Times. He became movie critic for the Sun-Times in 1966 – only six months after being hired as a writer for the publication’s Midwest magazine. Less than a decade later he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for criticism.

His work included interviews and profiles of notable actors and directors in addition to his reviews – celebrating such legends as Alfred Hitchcock, John Wayne and Robert Mitchum.

In 1969 he took a leave of absence from the Sun-Times to write the screenplay Beyond the Valley of the Dolls for Russ Meyer, having met the so-called “king of the buxom B-movie” after writing of his appreciation of his work. In later years Ebert was sheepish about the movie.

He also found television fame on Sneak Previews on PBS. It made Ebert a household name along with fellow critic Gene Siskel – who died in 1999 – thanks in large part to their verbal sparring and thumbs up/thumbs down reviews. Ebert’s television career was curtailed in 2002 when he was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer. He was unable to speak and eat after further surgery in 2006.

Writing his last blog this week he said: “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.”

Thumbs down: Classic Ebert reviews

Stargate (1994) “The movie Ed Wood, about the worst director of all time, was made to prepare us for Stargate.”

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) “If you want to save yourself the ticket price, go into the kitchen, cue up a male choir singing the music of hell, and get a kid to start banging pots and pans together. Then close your eyes and use your imagination.”

Battlefield Earth (2000) “Battlefield Earth is like taking a bus trip with someone who has needed a bath for a long time. It’s not merely bad; it’s unpleasant in a hostile way

Armageddon (1998) “No matter what they’re charging to get in, it’s worth more to get out.”

North (1994) “I hated this movie. Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.”

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