Roger Ebert dies aged 70

Pulitzer Prize-winning critic succumbs after a long battle with cancer

The world's most famous film critic Roger Ebert has died at the age of 70.

Only yesterday, Ebert had confirmed that he was once more battling cancer, after beating it in 2006, but only after it took his lower jaw and salivary glands leaving him unable to speak.

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He had suffered what was thought to have been a fracture of his left femur before Christmas, but revealed that the fracture was in fact his cancer returning and that he planned to scale back his work for the Chicago Sun-Times, taking what he termed 'a leave of presence'.

According to Variety, he died from complications related to his cancer, and is survived by his wife, civil rights lawyer Charlie Hammelsmith, a step-daughter and two step grandchildren.

President Barack Obama is among those who have paid tribute to his contribution to film.

“For a generation of Americans - and especially Chicagoans - Roger was the movies,” he said. “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.”

Ebert became famous for his trademark 'thumbs up' or 'thumbs down' judgement on films, and for his TV partnerships on the show 'At The Movies', firstly with Gene Siskel, who died of a brain tumour in 1999, and then with Richard Roeper, also a writer on the Sun-Times.

He began working for the Sun-Times in the early 60s. His knowledge of film impressed staff at the newspaper, where he was working as a copy boy, and soon he was appointed the paper's movie critic.

In time, a review from Ebert could make or break a film, and through his career, he did just that, and would nominate his top film for each year, a list which included the likes of 'Bonnie and Clyde', 'Apocalypse Now', 'Amadeus', 'Platoon', 'Do The Right Thing', 'Being John Malkovich', 'Juno', 'Pan's Labyrinth' and last year the Oscar-winning 'Argo'.

Such was his standing in critical circles - Ebert penned as many as 300 reviews a year - he became the first film writer to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1975.

However, he was fiercely critical of those who entered his profession for a shot at notoriety, once saying: “Any critic who cares about whether he’s quoted in an ad or not must have a bubble for a brain.”

As well as his criticism, he also found himself working as a screenwriter, penning the cult classic 'Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls' for director Russ Meyer.

The film world quickly came out in mourning for Ebert following the news of his death.

Writer and director Jason Reitman said: “A profound loss for anyone who has ever loved going to the movies. My heart goes out to Chaz and the city of Chicago. Just heartbroken.”

'Almost Famous' helmsman Cameron Crowe added: “Roger Ebert. Clear-eyed dreamer, king of the written word.”

Darren Aronofsky took to Twitter to recall his first review from Ebert, saying: “We lost a thoughtful writer, i remember my first review from him, pi (i got his and siskel's thumbs) it was a career highlight.”

Steve Martin said: “Goodbye Roger Ebert, we had fun. The balcony is closed,” while 'Bowling For Columbine' director Michael Moore added: “Roger Ebert. Millions of thumbs up for you. RIP.”

Harry Knowles, of the movie site Ain't It Cool News, said: “God. This is really getting to me. Roger Ebert is gone. He was the best patty cake partner that I've ever known. The dirty jokes. Man.”

Fellow critics too paid tribute, with A.O. Scott from the New York Times saying: “Ebert was singular. We are all in his shadow and his debt.”

Martin Scorsese is currently in the process of turning his memoir 'Life Itself', among 15 books he wrote, into a documentary, acting as executive producer.

The film's director Steve James said: “We are devastated. But we will continue. We will finish the film.”

Always praised for his astute, expansive criticism, Ebert was also an acerbic wit.

“No good film is too long,” he once said, “and no bad movie is short enough.”

Yesterday, on revealing that his cancer had returned more aggressively, he signed off most poignantly: “So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me.

"I'll see you at the movies.”