CHICAGO — Just days after announcing his long battle with cancer had resumed, and he would be scaling back his writing, Roger Ebert, the nation's most influential film critic and one of Chicago's most famous residents, died Thursday.
Ebert, a 46-year veteran of the Sun-Times and the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize, was 70.
In a letter posted by the Sun-Times, Ebert's wife, Chaz, said he died in "a quiet, dignified transition."
“Just yesterday he was saying how his grandchildren were ‘the best things in my life.’ He was happy and radiating satisfaction over the outpouring of responses to his blog about his 46th year as a film critic," Chaz Ebert wrote. "But he was also getting tired of his fight with cancer, and said if this takes him, he has lived a great and full life.
“We were getting ready to go home today for hospice care, when he looked at us, smiled, and passed away. No struggle, no pain, just a quiet, dignified transition."
Ebert's death brought an outpouring of grief from directors, actors and fans around the world. President Barack Obama said: "The movies won't be the same without Roger."
Over the course of his career, Ebert became the nation's most trusted source for movies — thumbs up or thumbs down. Ebert, with longtime co-host Gene Siskel, would give viewers of the "Sneak Previews" TV show an early look — and an early warning — about coming flicks.
On Tuesday, Ebert announced his cancer had returned and he was scaling back his writing. But he pledged he was "not going away."
Ebert blogged that he would cut the number of columns he would write for the Sun-Times. He called his plan to scale back a "leave of presence."
"What in the world is a leave of presence?" he wrote. "It means I am not going away. My intent is to continue to write selected reviews but to leave the rest to a talented team of writers handpicked and greatly admired by me."
"However you came to know me," he said. "I'm glad you did and thank you for being the best readers any film critic could ask for."
Ebert was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2002, and surgical complications in 2006 left him unable to speak.
But once his voice was silenced, his writing increased as he embraced new technology, taking to his blog and Twitter account and more to share his reviews, his take on world events and more.
"Film commentary was only one of several gifts," Sun-Times Media Editor in Chief Jim Kirk said. "He was a reporter first, in every aspect of his craft. He could write as eloquently about world affairs as he could on the upcoming blockbuster."
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Ebert will be remembered not only for his work, but also for his courage in battling cancer.
"Our whole city learned with sadness today of the passing of Roger Ebert, whose name was synonymous with two things: the movies and Chicago," Emanuel said.
"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."
Obama said he and first lady Michelle Obama were saddened by the news.
"For a generation of Americans — and especially Chicagoans — Roger was the movies," the president said in a statement. "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."