Monday, April 8, 2013

4.8.13 Hero of the Day: Roger Ebert

Bee-otch of the Day honors are awarded Monday through Thursday, Bee-otch of the Week is awarded Friday on


Name: Roger Ebert
Age: was 70
Occupation: film critic, writer
Last Seen: dancing with the angels
Awarded For: being quite possibly, the greatest film critic in movie history

The balcony has been closed, and the aisle seat has been filled.

For 46 years, Roger Ebert was purely America's film critic. The portly, thick-glasses-wearing sidekick to Gene Siskel or Richard Roeper (depending on the era) helped shape the way we saw and felt the movies. The son of an electrician in Urbana, Il, Ebert got into writing in high school doing sports reports for the local newspaper. However, he was a science fiction nerd, writing to several magazines during that period. Roger's love of film reviewing came from reading MAD Magazine and their infamous parodies of popular movies. It helped Ebert look at the bad of even the best movies ever made.

Ebert's professional film reviewing career started in 1967 at the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper. His reviews became popular with the locals, but on a national scale, it wasn't the first time people ever heard of him. Ebert wrote the screenplay to the 1970 Russ Meyer film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, which to the joy of all the filmmakers who he had lambasted over the years, was a box office dud filled with sex, drugs and rock 'n roll, plus big boobies. Ebert also wrote the scripts to other Meyer productions, such as Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens and Up!, plus Who Killed Bambi?, the unmade film that was to star the 1970's punk band The Sex Pistols. Needless to say, Ebert's movies would end up becoming cult classics, mainly for their kitschiness.

Despite his softcore scripts, Ebert was regarded as a fine film reviewer, and in 1975, won a Pulitzer prize for his criticisms. But, the Pulitzer was just the beginning.

It was in 1975 that local PBS-TV station WTTW channel 11 hired Ebert and rival critic Gene Siskel to do a monthly TV show called Opening Soon to a Theatre Near You. The show was an instant hit, and eventually, it became a weekly show called Sneak Previews. The program was syndicated to PBS stations across the country and made Siskel and Ebert stars. However, the two left PBS in 1982 and crossed over to mainstream television with At the Movies. In 1985, the show moved to Disney and was simply renamed Siskel and Ebert.

Siskel and Ebert were America's favorite odd couple for movies. Sometimes, the two went into near Jerry Springer-style arguments over movies regarding how good they were, or weren't. But, as usual, movies got two thumbs up, two thumbs down, or one thumb up and one thumb down.

Sadly, Siskel developed a brain tumor, and passed away in 1999. Ultimately, Ebert found his replacement, fellow Sun-Times critic Richard Roeper. Despite working at the same paper, the two did enter themselves into being loggerheads at times on the show. But, despite the continued popularity of the show, Roger himself found out that he had cancer.

In 2002, Roger discovered that he had thyroid cancer and went under successful surgery. However, it spread to his salivary glands as well. Four years later, more cancerous tissue was found near the jaw, and doctors were forced to remove it, causing Ebert to be unable to talk or eat. But, that didn't stop him from posting his reviews.

Ebert moved into a new direction, being more friendly towards social media. He even returned to PBS in 2011 with Ebert Presents At the Movies as a producer. The show starred Christy Lemiere, a late-30-something film critic for the Associated Press and 20-something Russian blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky giving films the Ebert-trademarked thumbs-up reviews. Ebert himself did reviews on the show; he would write them and somebody else - usually Chicago TV legend Bill Kurtis - would read them on the air. Sadly, the show was canceled after just one year on the air due to a lack of funding.

Earlier this year, Roger announced that his cancer had resurfaced and would be out for several weeks due to treatment. Fellow reviewers, such as Richard Roeper reviewed movies with Ebert still occasionally popping in to do a few himself. Sadly, Roger Ebert died last Thursday at the age of 70. He is survived by his wife of 21 years, Chaz. They had no children. Ebert waited until he was 50 to marry her - an African-American - to not disappoint his late mother. Ebert also dated Oprah Winfrey in the 1980's.

The cool thing about Roger Ebert was that he wasn't all about movies, he was about life, and we all learned from his personal experiences. When Ryan Dunn of Jackass died in a one-person drunk driving accident in 2011, Roger tweeted the article with the statement "friends don't let jackasses drive drunk". Fellow Jackass member Bam Margera responded angrily to the post, tweeting that Ebert was a "fat fuck" and that "millions of people are crying right now". Ebert defended his post by stating that he was an alcoholic for years and quit drinking in 1979 thanks to the help of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Ebert was a long-time Democrat and a secular humanist who gave out positive reviews to Dogma and The Passion of the Christ, two films that didn't quite see eye-to-eye regarding religion. He was also close pals with filmmaker Michael Moore; when he won the Best Documentary Oscar for Bowling For Columbine in 2003, it was Ebert who told Moore to present a politically-charged speech directed at president Bush's war policies. Despite a few boos from the crowd, It would help cement Moore as a voice against the Iraq War and a champion for the middle class.

Moore paid tribute to Ebert Thursday night by putting up "THANK YOU ROBERT EBERT A MILLION THUMBS UP" on the marquee at his State Theatre in Traverse City, MI.

When news of Roger's death came out, one person tweeted that God had to fire somebody because he took Roger Ebert and not rival film critic Michael Medved instead. Bear in mind that Medved - a conservative pundit - was one of Ebert's replacements on Sneak Previews when he and Siskel went to commercial TV.

Roger Ebert wasn't just a man who gave out film reviews, he gave out reviews on life. If something was good, it was thumbs up. Not so good? Vice versa. In a world like this, we needed him, and needed him now. True, Richard Roeper's still with us, and there's sites like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB that measure everybody's opinions, but they were no match to what Ebert had to say. Roger helped change Hollywood - and the world - for the better, and his passing will leave a void on life in general. There will be nobody like him ever again.

See ya, Roger. Maybe you'll now get to see and review The Way of All Flesh, all ten hours of GreedThe Rogue Song and just about any other film we'll never get to see.   

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