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Famed movie critic Roger Ebert dies at age 70

Roger Ebert had the most-watched thumb in Hollywood.

With a twist of his wrist, the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic could render a decision that influenced a nation of moviegoers and could sometimes make or break a film.

The heavy-set writer in the horn-rimmed glasses teamed up on TV with Gene Siskel to create a format for criticism that proved appealing in its simplicity: uncomplicated reviews that were both intelligent and accessible and didn’t talk down to ordinary movie fans.

Ebert, film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times since 1967, died yesterday at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, two days after announcing on his blog that he was undergoing radiation treatment for a recurrence of cancer. He was 70.

“So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I’ll see you at the movies,” Ebert told fans on his blog.

Despite this influence, Ebert 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 in his 2011 memoir titled Life Itself.

Ebert had lost portions of his jaw and the ability to speak, eat and drink after cancer surgeries in 2006, but 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, he became a prolific user of social media, connecting with fans on Facebook and Twitter.

Ebert’s thumb – pointing up or down – was his trademark. It was the main logo of the long-running TV shows Ebert co-hosted, first with Siskel of the rival Chicago Tribune and – after Siskel’s death in 1999 – with Sun-Times colleague Richard Roeper. A “two thumbs-up” accolade was sure to find its way into the advertising for the movie in question.

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 and featured Ebert in his own segment, “Roger’s Office.” He used a chin prosthesis and enlisted voice-over guests or his computer to read his reviews.

Some fans called Ebert a brave inspiration, but he said that bravery and courage had “little to do with it.”

“You play the cards you’re dealt,” Ebert wrote in an email to the Associated Press in January 2011. “What’s your choice? I have no pain. I enjoy life, and why should I complain?”

His 1975 Pulitzer for distinguished criticism was the first, and one of only three, given to a film reviewer since the category was created in 1970. In 2005, he received another honor when he became the first critic to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The son of a union electrician who worked at the University of Illinois’s Urbana-Champaign campus, Ebert was born in Urbana, Ill., on June 18, 1942. The love of journalism, as well as of movies, came early. Ebert covered high school sports for a local paper at age 15 while also writing and editing his own science fiction fan magazine.

He attended the university and was editor of the student newspaper. After his graduation in 1964, he spent a year on scholarship at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and then began work toward a doctorate in English at the University of Chicago.

Ebert’s hometown embraced the film critic, hosting the annual Ebertfest film festival and placing a plaque at his childhood home.

Ebert also was embraced online in the years after he lost his physical voice. He kept up a Facebook page, a Twitter account with more than 800,000 followers and a blog, Roger Ebert’s Journal.

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