In 1969, he took a leave of absence from the Sun-Times to write the screenplay for “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.” The movie got an “X” rating and became somewhat of a cult film.
Ebert’s television career began the year he won the Pulitzer, first on WTTW-TV, the Chicago PBS station, then nationwide on PBS and later on several commercial syndication services. Ebert and Siskel even trademarked the “two thumbs-up” phrase.
And while the pair may have sparred on air, they were close off camera. Siskel’s daughters were flower girls when Ebert married his wife, Chaz, in 1992.
“He’s in my mind almost every day,” Ebert wrote in his autobiography. “He became less like a friend than like a brother.”
Ebert was also an author, writing 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.
The son of a union electrician who worked at the University of Illinois’ Urbana-Champaign campus, Roger Joseph Ebert was born in Urbana 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 graduating 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 nearly 600,000 followers and a blog, Roger Ebert’s Journal.
The Internet was where he forged relationships with his readers, posting links to stories he found interesting and writing long pieces on varied topics, not just film criticism. He interacted with readers in the comments sections and liked to post old black-and-white photos of Hollywood stars and ask readers to guess who they were.
“My blog became my voice, my outlet, my ‘social media’ in a way I couldn’t have dreamed of,” Ebert wrote in his memoir. “Most people choose to write a blog. I needed to.”
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,” he wrote. “I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting.”