Roger Ebert: More Than A Thumbs-Up, Thumbs-Down Guy

Legendary film critic Roger Ebert died Thursday. He was known for his thumbs-up, thumbs-down TV reviews that influenced moviegoers across the nation. On Wednesday, he had announced on his blog that he was undergoing radiation treatment after a recurrence of cancer. Ebert was 70.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The film critic Roger Ebert died yesterday after a decade-long struggle with cancer. He wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times for 46 years. But it was a job that started as a side gig on TV, in 1975, that would make him a household name.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AT THE MOVIES WITH GENE SISKEL AND ROGER EBERT")

ROGER EBERT: So the verdict, very clearly, is two big yeses for...

GENE SISKEL: "Trading Places."

EBERT: ..."Trading Places."

SISKEL: And if you're in the mind for another comedy, "Man with Two Brains."

EBERT: OK. And that's it for this week. Next time I'll have reviews...

GREENE: Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel's show changed names several times, but their partnership worked until Siskel's death in 1999. Ebert continued on TV for a while and even through his illness, he never stopped writing - right up until this week. Kenneth Turan has this remembrance.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: In the more than 10 years since he was diagnosed with cancer, Roger Ebert refused to give up as much as an inch to the disease that had ravaged his body, but left his mind more nimble and ready to rumble. Last year, despite his continuing problems, Roger reviewed 306 films - the most of his career.

I first got to know Roger when I started going, as he did, to the film festivals at Sundance and Cannes. Roger puckishly claimed I had changed his life for the better when I introduced him to the Timex Indiglo watch, which lights up in the dark and tells you how much time is left in particularly worrisome films. Roger promptly called it the critic's friend, and often pulled his out when he saw me, to prove that he was still keeping the faith.

On a more public level, Roger was the best-known film critic in America. The more I got to know Roger, the more I thought that his TV work did a real disservice to his deep critical gifts. Roger was not a thumbs-up, thumbs-down kind of guy, but a dedicated scholar of film who could talk for hours about the camera work in "Citizen Kane," or the newest wrinkles in emerging Romanian cinema

Roger's father had been an electrician and general handyman at the University of Illinois. He could fix anything and everything, but he steadfastly refused to teach Roger any of his skills. "He'd come home at night," Roger said, after spending the day in the offices of these professors, "and he'd say to me, almost in awe, 'Roger, they just sit there and think.' That's the life he wanted for me. He didn't want me fixing things, like he did." Roger Ebert's dad got what he wanted, and we all have been the richer for it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AS TIME GOES BY")

GREENE: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION, and also for the Los Angeles Times. Roger Ebert died yesterday at age 70.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AS TIME GOES BY")

GREENE: This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: