Film critic (and major sci-fi fan) Roger Ebert passes away at 70

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Apr 4, 2013, 4:42 PM EDT (Updated)

Roger Ebert, the iconic film critic who was a tireless voice for great film in science fiction and beyond, passed away Thursday after a long battle with cancer.

Ebert began his film criticism career in 1967 when he started reviewing movies for the Chicago Sun-Times. In the more than four decades since, through the Sun-Times, television, books and more, he built himself into one of the most visible and trusted film critics in the world, and arguably the most important. In 1975 his film writing earned him the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism (the first film critic to ever earn that honor), and that same year he stepped out of the print world and onto our TV screens.

That year Ebert and Chicago Tribune film critic Gene Siskel began co-hosting a film previews show on a local Chicago TV station. The show grew popular enough to be picked up by PBS, and by the mid '80s the pair were the host of the syndicated review show Siskel & Ebert & The Movies. They became known for their trademark "thumbs up/thumbs down" rating system, and chances are if they gave your movie "Two Thumbs Up" it was the first bit of praise you trumpeted to audiences. After Siskel's death in 1999, Ebert paired up with fellow Sun-Times critic Richard Roeper to continue the show, which finally ended in 2008.

In his nearly 50 years of film criticism Ebert championed films of all sizes, genres and subjects, but he always seemed to have a special place in his heart for science fiction. He founded a Science Fiction Club at his high school as a boy, and even published a fanzine, Stymie, using money from early newspaper jobs to get it secretly printed. Among the genre films he championed over the years are 2001: A Space Odyssey (which he included in his 2012 Sight & Sound director's poll top ten list), AI: Artificial IntelligenceBlade RunnerContact, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindMulholland DrivePan's Labyrinth (which he named the best film of 2006), Raiders of the Lost ArkThe Shining, Star WarsSuperman and many more. Among his many books are his 2011 memoir Life Itself, more than a decade of "Movie Yearbooks" and three collections of essays on what he called "The Great Movies."

Ebert's health began to decline when he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2002. Eventually, a portion of his jaw had to be removed, and complications from a surgery in 2006 left him without the ability to speak, and subsequent attempts to restore it failed. By 2010, Ebert had committed to no further surgeries, preferring instead to enjoy life as it was. He continued to develop a vibrant web presence both through his website and his now-legendary Twitter account, and continued working hard, reviewing more than 300 films just last year. Earlier this week Ebert announced that a hip fracture he suffered last December was actually the result of a cancer resurgence, and that he would be taking "a leave of presence" from his work, writing only select reviews and blog posts. He thanked his readers for their support and said "I am not going away." Sadly, it turned out to be his last message to us.

It's hard to say just how big an impact Ebert left on the world of movies, but in an age when everyone on the internet is a film critic he remained just as vital as he was in the print age. Tributes from writers, fellow critics, actors, directors and fans are pouring in from all corners of the internet right now, and it's safe to say many of us right here at Blastr wouldn't love movies so damn much if it weren't for Ebert's loud and ever-present voice. 

Rest in peace, Mr. Ebert. We'll see you at the movies.

(Via Chicago Sun-Times)

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