Ebert began writing film reviews for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1967. His fame grew when he teamed with Chicago Tribune critic Gene Siskel for Sneak Previews (later renamed Siskel & Ebert & the Movies); launched in 1975 as a local program in Chicago, it went national in 1977 on PBS and featured intelligent (and often contentious) discussions about new films. Each movie was rated with a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down,” and for many viewers, “two thumbs up” was considered a seal of cinematic quality. When Siskel died in 1999, Ebert continued the show with guest critics before teaming with fellow Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper in 2002; Ebert’s last appearance on the show was in 2006, when his illness made it difficult for him to speak.
Born in Urbana, IL in 1942, Ebert began his journalism career in his teens, working as a high school sports reporter for the News-Gazette Champaign-Urbana. He studied at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he would eventually edit the school’s campus paper, The Daily Illini. It was also where his first review was published — he critiqued La Dolce Vita, a movie that would become one of his favorites.
Ebert’s rise in popularity coincided with the auteurist “movie brats,” a group of filmmakers that included Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and others; like those directors, Ebert championed unique and unconventional cinematic ideas while maintaining a healthy enthusiasm for more traditional Hollywood fare. In 1975, he was the first film critic to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
In 1970, Ebert wrote the screenplay for Russ Meyer’s exploitation classic Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, the trashy story of a female rock band. In addition to his newspaper and television work, Ebert published lengthy columns on politics and personal reflections on the web. He also wrote a number of books; his annual Movie Yearbook collected his newspaper reviews, and he also devoted volumes to his “Great Movies” columns, his most scathing reviews (I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie), and occasionally, to non-cinematic subjects (including The Pot and How to Use It: The Mystery and Romance of the Rice Cooker). His autobiography, Life Itself: A Memoir, was published in 2011.
Ebert is survived by his wife Chaz.
For all of Roger Ebert’s reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, click here.