Ebert fought a long battle with salivary cancer that resulted in his loss of the ability to speak in 2006. In a final update to his blog published Tuesday, Ebert announced that he was taking a "leave of presence" to undergo radiation treatment for a recurrence of the disease.
"On this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me," Ebert wrote. "I'll see you at the movies."
Ebertfest, the Chicago-based festival the critic launched in 1998, is scheduled to begin its 15th edition on April 17.
Ebert's impact on global film culture is unparalleled. While the co-host of the famed television show with the late Gene Siskel that began its run in 1986, in which the duo popularized the "thumbs up/down" approach to evaluating movies, Ebert began his career in film criticism in the late sixties, writing for the same publication to which he continued to contribute for the rest of his life. As a result, he was one of the most prolific critics in history, responsible for championing early works by filmmakers like Martin Scorsese as well as shedding light on overlooked masters like Yasujiro Ozu.
For those of us practicing criticism on a regular basis, Ebert was both a figurative and literal mentor who was graceful in his ability to spend time responding to the requests of hundreds of aspiring critics over the years, including this one. After being inspired, like many, by the massive volumes of work Ebert put out over the years, it was a literal dream come true to be able to interact with the man himself. But Ebert himself was not lost in his own legend. An avid tweeter whose feed and blog quickly became some of the most popular locations for cultural analysis on the internet, Ebert never shied away from the evolution of filmic discussion.
I was honored to be a part of his "tweet-off" game at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2010, but those were just the early days of Ebert's experience with social media; later, he would further experiment with ways of migrating his celebrity and film advocacy into the digital realm, culminating with his announcement of Ebert Digital earlier this week. At a time when film viewing and discourse is at an all-time high and highbrow critics have worried about the endangerment of committed cinephilia, Ebert managed to keep his head above water better than anyone.
He was also great at giving advice. Once, feeling crestfallen by the insults hurled at me in the comments section of a review, I wrote to Ebert for guidance. He replied immediately.
"Speaking as a person who himself was recently described as having
destroyed modern film criticism, my advice is: Fuck 'em," he wrote. "Make no reply.
To thine own self be true.
Along the way I have traveled the gamut from being too young to being too old. You can't make everybody happy."
And yet for a world of people who thrived on the possibilities of understanding the world through cinema, Ebert made more people happy than any of his kind.
Indiewire extends its condolences to Ebert's beloved wife Chaz and hopes to pay appropriate tribute to their support over the years. We will be inviting the critical community to address Ebert's legacy in the immediate future. For more updates, please visit Criticwire.