CHICAGO — Roger Ebert, the most famous and most popular film reviewer of his time who become the first journalist to win a Pulitzer Prize for movie criticism and, on his long-running TV program, wielded the nation’s most influential thumb, died Thursday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. He was 70.
Ebert had been a film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times since 1967. He had announced on his blog Wednesday that he was undergoing radiation treatment after a recurrence of cancer.
He had no grand theories or special agendas, but millions recognized the chatty, heavy-set man with wavy hair and horn-rimmed glasses. Above all, they followed the thumb — pointing up or down.
It was the main logo of the televised shows Ebert co-hosted, first with the late Gene Siskel of the rival Chicago Tribune and, after Siskel’s death in 1999, with his Sun-Times colleague, Richard Roeper.
Although criticized as gimmicky and simplistic, a “two thumbs up” accolade was sure to find its way into the advertising for the movie in question.
Despite his power with the movie-going public, Ebert wrote in his 2011 autobiography “Life Itself” that he considered himself “beneath everything else a fan.”
“I have seen untold numbers of movies and forgotten most of them, I hope, but I remember those worth remembering, and they are all on the same shelf in my mind,” Ebert wrote.
He was teased for years about his weight, but the jokes stopped abruptly when Ebert lost portions of his jaw and the ability to speak, eat and drink after cancer surgeries in 2006.
He overcame his health problems to resume writing full-time and eventually even returned to television. In addition to his work for the Sun-Times, Ebert became a prolific user of social media, connecting with fans on Facebook and Twitter.
The thumb logo remained the property of Ebert and Siskel’s widow, and in early 2011, Ebert launched his new show, “Ebert Presents At the Movies.” The show had new hosts, but featured Ebert in his own segment, “Roger’s Office.”
He used a chin prosthesis and enlisted voice-over guests to read his reviews.
While some called Ebert a brave inspiration, he told The Associated Press in an email in January 2011 that bravery and courage “have little to do with it.”
“You play the cards you’re dealt,” Ebert wrote. “What’s your choice? I have no pain, I enjoy life, and why should I complain?”