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Barack Obama and Martin Scorsese on Roger Ebert’s death

Esteemed film critic died aged 70; was first journalist to win Pulitzer for movie criticism

  • AFP
  • Published: 12:42 April 5, 2013
  • Tabloid

  • Image Credit: AP
  • Photos by AP Roger Ebert works in his office at the WTTW-TV studios in Chicago

Film legend Martin Scorsese and President Barack Obama led tributes to US movie critic Roger Ebert, the first cinema pundit to win a Pulitzer Prize who died Thursday from cancer aged 70.

Scorsese, who has been working on a film about the reviewer famed for his trademark thumbs up and thumbs down accolades, called Ebert's death "an incalculable loss for movie culture and for film criticism."

"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."

Fellow Chicago native Obama also hailed Ebert, who wrote reviews for the Chicago Sun-Times for over four decades and hosted a hugely popular long-running TV show.

"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," Obama added in a White House statement.

Ebert - who just two days ago announced in a blog post that he was taking a break from his main job - succumbed to cancer after a long battle, said his newspaper, announcing the critic's death in Chicago.

Within hours of his death, Hollywood veterans lined up to pay their respects, in tributes carried by the Chicago newspaper.

Director Steven Spielberg said: "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."

Influential producer Harvey Weinstein added: "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."

He "promoted excellence in film while deflating the awful, the derivative, or the merely mediocre with an observant eye, a sharp wit and a depth of knowledge that delighted his millions of readers and viewers," said the Sun-Times.

The print, television and online critic, whose "two thumbs up" accolade was a stamp of excellence coveted by filmmakers, started working for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1967.

He won a Pulitzer in 1975 for distinguished criticism, the first and one of only three such honourees, and hosted long-running movie review television shows, with a thumbs up or thumbs down as the main logo.

Ebert - who had been in ill-health for a decade and battled thyroid and salivary gland cancers - also embraced the Internet age, sharing his output online through blogs, Twitter and other social media.

In a blog post Tuesday, he announced a "Leave of Presence" but laid out his plans to continue working: "I am throwing myself into Ebert Digital and the redesigned, highly interactive and searchable Rogerebert.com."

Ebert noted how a "painful fracture" had recently been revealed to be a cancer. "It is being treated with radiation, which has made it impossible for me to attend as many movies as I used to," he said.

Addressing his readers for a last time, he recalled how he became the Chicago Sun-Times' film critic almost 46 years ago to the day, on April 3, 1967.

"Some of you have read my reviews and columns and even written to me since that time... However you came to know me, I'm glad you did and thank you for being the best readers any film critic could ask for."

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