(Photo: Credit: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni)
Roger Ebert, arguably the most famous film critic in the world, passed away on Thursday at the age of 70, after an 11-year struggle with thyroid cancer that had left him unable to speak.
"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," his wife, Chaz Ebert, said in a statement following his death.
"I am devastated by the loss of my love, Roger – my husband, my friend, my confidante and oh-so-brilliant partner of over 20 years. He fought a courageous fight. I've lost the love of my life and the world has lost a visionary and a creative and generous spirit who touched so many people all over the world. We had a lovely, lovely life together, more beautiful and epic than a movie. It had its highs and the lows, but was always experienced with good humor, grace and a deep abiding love for each other."
Ebert worked as a film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times since 1967, writing thousands of in-depth reviews, and became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 1975.
The Illinois native published over 20 books, his columns appeared in hundreds of newspapers across America, and he is remembered fondly by many fans for co-hosting "Siskel and Ebert at the Movies" with his friend and fellow critic Gene Siskel, before the latter passed away in 1999 after a battle with brain tumor.
Much like the many in-depth film reviews that he wrote, Ebert had a lot to say about religion as well. He refused all labels, however, admitting that at the end of the day, he prefers pondering the deep questions of life and the universe rather than being provided with answers.
In them, the film critic describes his Roman Catholic upbringing, which first introduced him to the questions of God and creation, leaving him awake at night to look at the stars and wonder.
"But how could God have no beginning? And how could he have no end? And then I thought of all the stars in the sky: But how could there be a last one? Wouldn't there always have to be one more?" he pondered.
Ebert shared of his experience as an altar boy, and wrote that "no priest or nun ever treated me with other than love and care." He added that he believed in the basic church teachings and still lived by them – "not by the rules and regulations, but by the principles."
He admitted, however, that over the years the likelihood of a God began to lessen for him, and he distanced himself from religion. "I kept this to myself. I never discussed it with my parents," Ebert revealed.
Still, the critic refused to be labeled as an atheist or agnostic, and continued theorizing about the nature of the universe and existence. Ebert noted that he does not believe in God in the way most people do, and offered: "I grant you that if the universe was Caused, there might have been a Causer. But that entity, or force, must by definition be outside space and time; beyond all categories of thought, or non-thought; transcending existence, or non-existence. What is the utility of arguing our 'beliefs' about it? What about the awesome possibility that there was no Cause? What if everything ... just happened?"
In his blogs, Ebert expressed admiration both for Pope John XXIII and Richard Dawkins. He shared that Chaz, his wife, has "a firm faith," but left him to his beliefs.
Although many continued trying to label him, the critic insisted that no definition would apply to him, and admitted that at the end, he is still working on understanding himself.
"I am not a believer, not an atheist, not an agnostic. I am still awake at night, asking how? I am more content with the question than I would be with an answer," Ebert concluded in one of the blogs.
Ebert is survived by his wife, two step-children, and two step-grandchildren.
A collection of his favorite films and reviews can be found on the Chicago Sun-Times website.