Acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert was praised on Monday as a consummate Chicago newsman, a champion of storytellers and a visionary who understood the power of social media to spread the word about everything from good movies to his battle with the cancer that ended his life.
At a funeral Mass at Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral, speakers, including Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a son of civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson and Ebert’s widow took turns telling parts of Ebert’s story that made him one of the most, if not the most, influential film critic in the world.
Ebert died Thursday after a long battle with cancer at the age of 70. In the course of more than 40 years, Ebert was a Pulitzer Prize winning film critic, who became a television star with fellow Chicago newspaper critic Gene Siskel, who together turned their thumbs — specifically the direction they pointed — into shorthand for good and bad movies that was recognized around the world.
“He didn’t just dominate his profession, he defined it,” said Emanuel,
Jonathan Jackson paid tribute on behalf of his father who could not attend the service, then told the crowded church that Ebert had supported black filmmakers decades ago when this was something that just wasn’t done.
“He respected what we had to say about ourselves,” said Jackson, who pointed to Ebert’s glowing review of Spike Lee’s ‘Do The Right Thing’ in the late 1980s. “It was not his story but he understood the value of an important film was authenticity and not the fact that it depicted your interests.”
Ebert has been widely praised for his embrace of social media, particularly Twitter, which he used to keep readers up with his thoughts about movies, his wife, Chaz, and anything else that popped into his head after multiple surgeries left him unable to speak.
“He realized that connecting to people was the main reason we’re all here and that’s what his life was all about,” said Sonia Evans, his stepdaughter.