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Chicago, nation reacts to passing of Roger Ebert

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Updated: April 5, 2013 9:31AM



Friends and colleagues of Roger Ebert reacted and remembered as news of his death spread Thursday.

President Barack Obama: “Michelle and I are saddened to hear about the passing of Roger Ebert. For a generation of Americans — and especially Chicagoans ­— Roger was the movies. When he didn’t like a film, he was honest; when he did, he was effusive — capturing the unique power of the movies to take us somewhere magical. Even amidst his own battles with cancer, Roger was as productive as he was resilient — continuing to share his passion and perspective with the world. The movies won’t be the same without Roger, and our thoughts and prayers are with Chaz and the rest of the Ebert family.”

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn: “I was very saddened to hear today that my good friend Roger Ebert has passed away. I – along with the people of Illinois – offer condolences to his wife Chaz, with whom I had the privilege of spending some time just last week. Even in recent years when illness robbed him of his ability to speak, the mere act of raising his thumb brought auditoriums full of people to their feet in applause. One of my best memories was getting a ‘thumbs-up’ from Roger in 2011 when I proclaimed ‘Roger Ebert Day’ at Ebertfest in Champaign. Roger Ebert was Everyman with a cinematographer’s eye and an artist’s passion. His unique gift was the ability to communicate with everyday people about all kinds of movies and ultimately, the real values of life. He was one of our best-known and most respected journalists, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize as a Chicago Sun-Times film critic, and a proud and generous graduate of the University of Illinois where he began his journalism career at the Daily Illini.

The whole state joins me in mourning his passing. Roger Ebert was a great man. No doubt Gene Siskel is saving him a seat in the balcony upstairs.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s statement: “Our whole city learned with sadness today of the passing of Roger Ebert, whose name was synonymous with two things: the movies and Chicago. In a Pulitzer Prize-winning career that spanned more than four decades, thousands of reviews and countless acts of generosity to others, Roger championed Chicago as a center for filmmaking and critiques. With a knowledge of his subject as deep as his love for his wife Chaz, Roger Ebert will be remembered for the strength of his work, respected for his courage in the face of illness, and revered for his contribution to filmmaking and to our city. The final reel of his life may have run through to the end, but his memory will never fade.”

Werner Herzog, documentarian and personal friend: “The good soldier of cinema. I kept calling him that and he kept calling me that. He saw in me a good soldier in cinema. I said you are even more. He was a wounded soldier. He was ill and struggled and was still plowing on relentlessly. And that was completely and utterly admirable and I love him for that.”

Martin Scorsese, Academy Award-winning director and personal friend: “The death of Roger Ebert is an incalculable loss for movie culture and for film criticism. And it’s a loss for me personally. Roger was always supportive, he was always right there for me when I needed it most, when it really counted – at the very beginning, when every word of encouragement was precious; and then again, when I was at the lowest ebb of my career, there he was, just as encouraging, just as warmly supportive. There was a professional distance between us, but then I could talk to him much more freely than I could to other critics. Really, Roger was my friend. It’s that simple. Few people I’ve known in my life loved or cared as much about movies. I know that’s what kept him going in those last years – his life-or-death passion for movies, and his wonderful wife Chaz. We all knew that this moment was coming, but that doesn’t make the loss any less wrenching. I’ll miss him - my dear friend, Roger Ebert.”

Steven Spielberg, director: “Roger loved movies. They were his life. His reviews went far deeper than simply thumbs up or thumbs down. He wrote with passion through a real knowledge of film and film history, and in doing so, helped many movies find their audiences. Along with Gene Shalit, Joel Siegel, and of course Gene Siskel, Roger put television criticism on the map. Roger’s passing is virtually the end of an era and now the balcony is closed forever.”

Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman, the Weinstein Company/film producer: “Roger Ebert was a passionate critic who understood that he needed to not only appraise films but be a champion of cinema. He was always on the side of movies that needed that extra push. The only thing that tops him as a writer was his kindness as a human being. I will miss Roger very much and my heart goes out to Chaz and the entire family.”

Robert Redford, President & Founder of Sundance Institute: “Roger Ebert was one of the great champions of freedom of artistic expression. When the power of independent film was still unknown and few would support it, Roger was there for our artists. His personal passion for cinema was boundless, and that is sure to be his legacy for generations to come.”

Mel Gibson, actor: “I never thought of Roger solely as a film critic but more as a film historian and lover of the art. I sought out his opinions and thoughts often and he was always extremely generous with his time. He was a gentle soul and will be missed greatly.”

Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill): “I am deeply saddened to learn of legendary film critic Roger Ebert’s passing. As a movie fan, no person appreciated his extraordinary talent as a film critic more than me. Few reach the status of a true Chicago icon. He will be missed.”

Illinois Congressman Bobby Rush: “Roger was a fighter. He wrote his way into the hearts and minds of the nation. He was able to transcend all barriers and etch his opinions into the hearts and minds of movie goers and movie lovers across the nation. May he rest in peace. Chaz and Roger also exemplified how lovely it is to love.”

Thea Flaum, creator and producer of the original Siskel and Ebert movie show and personal friend: “I am and have been enormously proud of Roger and of his wife. There is no question that in the last 10 years for sure Chaz Ebert is the reason that Roger has been able to achieve all of the things that he was able to achieve. And right up until the very end, Chaz was there caring for him and he for her.”

Barbara Scharres, director of programming at Siskel Film Center: “Roger was always someone who wanted to reach the largest possible public as a film critic. Film criticism wasn’t an elitist thing for him. And he was in the forefront of grasping the opportunities of the Internet where he developed a huge audience throughout the world. To generate so much dialogue about film was amazing, and he was the only film critic who really did that.”

Michael Kutza, founder and artistic director of the Chicago International Film Festival: “Roger was and will remain a force in the film world, his books and reviews will always be there for film student for years to come. He was so more than just Chicago, Roger was the world. He will be missed.”

Susan Matthiesen, director of marketing for Lyric Opera: “Roger was a subscriber at Lyric Opera for many, many years and was a good friend of our late general manager, Ardis Krainik. I remember that he was a particular fan of our program notes about each opera, and at one point he contacted Ardis to say they should be published. He put us in touch with his publisher at that time, and that was the genesis of our book of about 100 essays, “The Lyric Opera Companion: The History, Lore, and stories of the World’s Greatest Operas.”

Gigi Pritzker, producer of “Drive” and “Rabbit Hole”: “Roger was a wonderful fan and advocate for film and filmmakers. There is no one else like him and he will be sorely missed.”

Peter Sagal, host, NPR’s “Wait, Wait ... Don’t Tell Me”: “He was a great writer, a generous man to those less worthy than he, and a complete mensch. He made Chicago great in the same way that Studs Terkel did, and I will always be proud I shared the city with him.”

Dan Schmidt, President and CEO of WTTW-Channel 11: “Everyone at WTTW is deeply saddened by the loss of Roger Ebert, whose courageous battle with cancer in recent years was an inspiration to us all. He and the late Gene Siskel were seminal figures in film criticism, and certainly in the history of our station as their groundbreaking series Sneak Previews was created here. We were fortunate to enjoy a long and fruitful working relationship with Roger, and later also his beloved wife Chaz when his new series Ebert Presents at the Movies returned home to WTTW in 2011. Our sincerest condolences go out to his family, friends, colleagues, and his many fans all over the world. He was an incredible writer, thinker, and human being.”

Christie Hefner, former CEO of Playboy Enterprises and personal friend of Ebert: “He was unbelievably courageous. He was very open about his life. I think Chaz was the love of his life. I was at their wedding. It was a partnership in all sense of the word. I think that was very special. He loved Chicago. This was a person who clearly could have gone and been a star in New York or L.A. I don’t think it ever crossed his mind to leave Chicago.”

Jan Slater, Dean of the College of Media, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: “The whole community is sad. Champaign-Urbana, this was home and his alma mater. We’ve always considered him a very important part of our family. We’re so grateful that he was ours and we miss him already.”

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, film critic, “Ebert Presents: At the Movies”: “It can’t be overstated how generous and supportive Roger was -- to his colleagues, to aspiring critics, to readers. He was a public intellectual, but he was completely unpretentious -- a true Chicago type. He would watch anything, he would consider anything, he would read a comment or a letter from anyone. I only met Roger after he’d lost his voice and a lot of his mobility. He didn’t talk, he moved slowly and deliberately, but there was still this tremendous energy to him. You could see it in his eyes.”

Christy Lemire, AP movie critic and co-host of “Ebert Presents At the Movies”: “What I’ll remember most and love best about Roger Ebert was his playful side, and an infectious enthusiasm that was astonishingly alive after decades in a business in which it would have been easy — and safe — to be cynical.”

Jean de St. Aubin, the Gene Siskel Film Center’s Executive Director: “As everyone’s favorite film critic, an entertaining raconteur, Roger was an extraordinary communicator. Our hearts go out to Chaz, his great love and partner, and to his family. He will be greatly missed.”

Ray Pride, Newcity film critic, Moviecitynews.com news editor: “He taught several generations to love movies. Roger’s known way with a off-color joke extended to the screening room. I remember being a freshman at Northwestern and hearing a voice in the dark that was always welcome: Roger with the fastest, funniest joke about a bad scene, always appropriate”

Alan Sepinwall, TV Critic: “Whether he was lavishing praise on a film or elegantly destroying it, on TV or in print, Ebert was so good at what he did that he inspired me to wonder if perhaps I could do that. And though I ultimately chose to cover a medium other than Ebert’s favorite, I almost always had his voice in my head as I wrote: Are you making the best, plainest form of the argument? Are you judging this work by what it’s trying to be, and not what you want it to be? I haven’t always succeeded at either point, but I always try. One of the greatest thrills of my career came almost three years ago, when Ebert randomly praised me on Twitter. It was a moment when I was at something of a crossroads in my career, and that compliment from the man who had inspired it — and the subsequent email correspondence we had — meant everything.”

Bill Zehme, Chicago author: “I started writing major magazine profiles of Roger and, of course Gene, once they went into national syndication — and every moment spent in their midst was my youthful thrill. Not only to eventually consider them friends, but to have witnessed so many of their gorgeously idiotic fights. Siskel loved to warn me, ‘Watch how Big Boy will always get in the last word.’ Big Boy did in fact get in that last word, now eternally so. He was an astonishment —and the only truly impossibly fast writer I know who simply wrote like a dream.”

Bruce Elliott, artist in residence at the Old Town Ale House, and Ebert’s longtime pal: “He became pure Chicago...if you take somebody like Oprah or Michael Jordan, they came, and then they left...Roger would never leave. I’m going to miss Roger Ebert a whole lot...I posted on Facebook today what Roger said: ‘He was happy before he was born, and he was sure he was going to be happy after he died.’ I think that’s a pretty good way to put it.”

Donna LaPietra, the executive producer of Siskel & Ebert & the Movies when the show moved to Buena Vista syndication: I had the best seat in the house — not so far from their movie set balcony. I got to watch two of the most intellectually astute journalists and newspaper writers make television history. They really did shape how we all viewed movies. Roger was one of the best story tellers of all time helped I’m sure by his Pulitzer prize winning skills. But, he turned any gathering into an unforgettable party and provided the sort of laughter that had you nearly in tears.

Bill Kurtis, journalist: “He was an original — that means he couldn’t be duplicated. Gene and Roger embedded themselves in American culture. No one thinks of TWO THUMBS UP without thinking of two critics sitting side by side. Roger’s talent goes deep — he was a great writer. He took this gift and combined it with experience and intellect to create something that made us better for having read it.”

The Strawberry Alarm Clock band: Roger touched a lot of lives and in our case we owe him a huge debt of gratitude. He was solely responsible for bringing together for the first time in forty years, the “original” Strawberry Alarm Clock band. Having appeared in the 1970 film “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” which Roger wrote, we were reunited at his request to appear in concert at Ebertfest 2007. Since that concert, our band is still together and performing. Roger Ebert will hold a special place in our hearts forever. His generosity and kindness will not be forgotten.

Contributing: Hedy Weiss, Natasha Korecki, Bill Zwecker, Mike Lansu, Miriam DiNunzio, Marcus Gilmer, Tracy Maple



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