Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Donate today to support the journalism you rely on!

Roger Ebert: More Than A Thumbs-Up, Thumbs-Down Guy


The film critic Roger Ebert died yesterday after a decade-long struggle with cancer. He wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times for 46 years. But it was a job that started as a side gig on TV, in 1975, that would make him a household name.


ROGER EBERT: So the verdict, very clearly, is two big yeses for...

GENE SISKEL: "Trading Places."

EBERT: ..."Trading Places."

SISKEL: And if you're in the mind for another comedy, "Man with Two Brains."

EBERT: OK. And that's it for this week. Next time I'll have reviews...

GREENE: Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel's show changed names several times, but their partnership worked until Siskel's death in 1999. Ebert continued on TV for a while and even through his illness, he never stopped writing - right up until this week. Kenneth Turan has this remembrance.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: In the more than 10 years since he was diagnosed with cancer, Roger Ebert refused to give up as much as an inch to the disease that had ravaged his body, but left his mind more nimble and ready to rumble. Last year, despite his continuing problems, Roger reviewed 306 films - the most of his career.

I first got to know Roger when I started going, as he did, to the film festivals at Sundance and Cannes. Roger puckishly claimed I had changed his life for the better when I introduced him to the Timex Indiglo watch, which lights up in the dark and tells you how much time is left in particularly worrisome films. Roger promptly called it the critic's friend, and often pulled his out when he saw me, to prove that he was still keeping the faith.

On a more public level, Roger was the best-known film critic in America. The more I got to know Roger, the more I thought that his TV work did a real disservice to his deep critical gifts. Roger was not a thumbs-up, thumbs-down kind of guy, but a dedicated scholar of film who could talk for hours about the camera work in "Citizen Kane," or the newest wrinkles in emerging Romanian cinema

Roger's father had been an electrician and general handyman at the University of Illinois. He could fix anything and everything, but he steadfastly refused to teach Roger any of his skills. "He'd come home at night," Roger said, after spending the day in the offices of these professors, "and he'd say to me, almost in awe, 'Roger, they just sit there and think.' That's the life he wanted for me. He didn't want me fixing things, like he did." Roger Ebert's dad got what he wanted, and we all have been the richer for it.


GREENE: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION, and also for the Los Angeles Times. Roger Ebert died yesterday at age 70.


GREENE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kenneth Turan is the film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition, as well as the director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. He has been a staff writer for the Washington Post and TV Guide, and served as the Times' book review editor.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.