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Famed movie critic Roger Ebert dies

CHICAGO — Roger Ebert, the first journalist to win a Pulitzer Prize for movie criticism who, on his long-running TV program, wielded the nation’s most influential thumb, died Thursday. He was 70.

Ebert, a film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times since 1967, had announced on his blog Tuesday that he was undergoing radiation treatment after a recurrence of cancer.

The thumb, pointing up or down, was the main logo of TV shows Ebert co-hosted, first with the late Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune and, after Siskel’s death in 1999, with his Sun-Times colleague Richard Roeper.

Despite his influence with movie-goers, Ebert wrote in his 2011 autobiography, “Life Itself,” that he considered himself “beneath everything else a fan.”

Ebert lost portions of his jaw and ability to speak, eat and drink after cancer surgeries in 2006. He resumed writing full-time and even returned to television. Ebert became a prolific user of social media .

In early 2011, Ebert launched “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.

Ebert joined the Sun-Times part time in 1966 while pursuing graduate study at the University of Chicago and got the reviewing job the following year. His reviews were syndicated to several hundred other newspapers, collected in books and repeated on innumerable websites .

Ebert’s quotable style, with his knowledge of film technique and the business side of the industry, made him an almost instant success.

He did interviews and profiles of actors and directors with the film reviews, celebrating such legends as Alfred Hitchcock, John Wayne and Robert Mitchum and offering words of encouragement to newcomer Martin Scorsese.

In 1969, Ebert wrote the screenplay for the X-rated “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” which is somewhat of a cult hit.

His 1975 Pulitzer for distinguished criticism was the first for a film reviewer since the category was created in 1970. In 2005, he became the first critic to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

While Ebert and Siskel sparred on air, they were close off camera. Siskel’s daughters were flower girls when Ebert married his wife, Chaz, in 1992.

Ebert visited Las Vegas several times for the annual movie industry convention and trade show once known as ShoWest. Now known as CinemaCon, it returns to Caesars Palace on April 15.

In 1986, he and Siskel led a ShoWest panel discussion at Bally’s, critiquing movie theaters rather than movies.

“Adults feel out of place in a theater that looks like a teenage disco,” Ebert said at the time, noting that the then-new experience of home video could never replace “the wonderful out-of-body experience” movie-going provides.

Ebert received a thumbs-up from ShoWest in April 2009, when he received a Career Achievement in Film Journalism Award at Paris Las Vegas for his 40-plus years reviewing movies .

Ebert wrote more than 20 books that included two volumes of essays on classic movies and the popular “I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie,” a collection of some of his most scathing reviews.

Ebert wrote in 2010 that he did not fear death because he didn’t believe there was anything “on the other side of death to fear.”

“I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting.”

Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Carol Cling contributed to this report.

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