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Roger Ebert dies; prolific, influential critic, author, blogger

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Roger Ebert in Cannes, France, 2004. (AP file photo/Michel Euler) Roger Ebert in Cannes, France, 2004. (AP file photo/Michel Euler)

Legendary film critic Roger Ebert has died. He was 70.

Ebert reviewed films for the Chicago Sun-Times for 46 years and on television for 31 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," Jim Kirk, the editor in chief, said in a statement. "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."  

Ebert had been fighting serious health problems for the past decade, including cancer of the salivary gland and the thyroid.

After losing the ability speak and eat back in 2006, Ebert became an even more prolific writer, contributing regularly to his blog, posting on social media, and writing books. 

He died Thursday in Chicago, just two days after announcing in a moving essay that he would be dialing back his workload to deal with yet another cancer flare-up while also expressing excitement about upcoming projects, including the launching of a redesigned website.

On Thursday, that website featured a tribute to its namesake that begins with the words: "Roger Ebert loved movies. Except for those he hated."

Ebert, the 1975 Pulitzer Prize winner for criticism, became a household name when his local TV show with rival critic Gene Siskel went national and became a hit. Their signature "thumbs up/thumbs down" reviews were enormously influential to moviegoers, other film critics, and even filmmakers.

Siskel died in 1999 of brain cancer. The TV show continued for several years with guest co-hosts and then with Sun-Times critic Richard Roeper.

Ebert leaves behind his wife, Chaz Hammelsmith Ebert, who was also his business partner, step children, and step grandchildren, the Sun-Times reported. In a statement, Chaz Ebert said she was devastated by the loss of her husband, friend, confidante, and partner.

"I've lost the love of my life and the world has lost a visionary and a creative and generous spirit who touched so many people all over the world," she said in the statement. "We had a lovely, lovely life together, more beautiful and epic than a movie. It had its highs and the lows, but was always experienced with good humor, grace and a deep abiding love for each other."

She added that they were getting ready for hospice care when Ebert smiled and passed away.

"No struggle, no pain, just a quiet, dignified transition," Chaz Ebert said in the statement.

In an unsigned editorial titled "We were all better for knowing Roger Ebert," the Sun-Times paid tribute to its longtime contributor.

"Roger loved the movies and big ideas and great conversation and hard work. He loved the very idea of living a full and examined life, and he was an inspiration to millions of others," the editorial read. "Movie fans adored Roger, of course, but so did all of us who at times can feel that electric surge that is life itself."

In a statement, President Barack Obama, who is from Chicago, said he was saddened to hear of Ebert's passing.

"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," the president said. "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."

Fans, fellow critics, and filmmakers that he both respected and critiqued flooded Twitter with tributes.

Director Darren Aronofky Tweeted: "we lost a thoughtful writer, i remember my first review from him, pi (i got his and siskel's thumbs) it was a career highlight."

Actress Virginia Madsen wrote: "Dear Roger- you were a true friend to my me and my family. Thank you. Your voice will never be silenced."

Writer Lisa Schwarzbaum, former critic with Entertainment Weekly, observed: "Everything jazzed him, not just movies: food, gadgets (he was so techno-forward), books, life. RIP #rogerebert, a critic who held on to joy."

The final review bearing Ebert's byline appears to be a two-and-a-half star crtique of "The Host," based on the book by "Twilight" author Stephenie Meyer.

Back in September 2011, he wrote on that he did not fear death.

"I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear," he wrote. "I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You can't say it wasn't interesting."

But Ebert's final published words from his Tuesday essay now read as a prescient farewell even though he also wrote of coming projects under "Ebert brand."

"So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me," he wrote. "I'll see you at the movies."

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