April 4, 2013 at 3:44 PM ET
Updated at 8:39 p.m. ET: Roger Ebert, the longtime critic who popularized film criticism with his "thumbs up, thumbs down" reviews in print and on television, died on Thursday. He was 70.
Ebert revealed this week that he suffered a recurrence of the cancer that he had battled in recent years.
"There is a hole that can't be filled. One of the greats has left us," the Chicago Sun-Times tweeted in announcing the news. The newspaper led off its lengthy obituary by stating simply: "Roger Ebert loved movies. Except for those he hated."
His wife, Chaz, expressed her sorrow in a statement, saying she had lost the love of her life. She also noted that he had fought a courageous battle against cancer, but had started to tire of the fight. "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," she said.
As news of Ebert's death spread Thursday, President Barack Obama issued a statement expressing his condolences and highlighting the critic's career: "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. ... The movies won't be the same without Roger."
Hired at the Sun-Times in 1967, Ebert reviewed movies at the newspaper for 46 years and established himself as one of the nation's most well-known film critics.
He was diagnosed in 2002 with papillary thyroid cancer, and in 2003 was operated on for cancer in his salivary gland. Further surgeries to remove more cancerous tissue required removal of a section of jawbone, and he continued to suffer complications over the next few years. After fracturing his hip last December, he underwent further surgery.
Just two days ago he posted online that he was taking a "leave of presence," saying that he was not going away but that he must slow down. He wrote of several projects he had in the works and his hopes of pursuing other types of writing.
Ebert famously teamed with fellow critic Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune for "Siskel and Ebert At The Movies," a 1980s television show in which they reviewed new film releases. The two often squared off over what deserved a "thumbs up" or a "thumbs down" and their stamp of approval or disapproval made its way to movie posters and video boxes. Siskel died in 1999 at age 53.
Ebert was born in Urbana, Ill., on June 18, 1942. The Associated Press reports that his love of journalism, as well as of movies, came early. The New York Times writes that the first movie he saw was the 1937 Marx Brothers comedy, "A Day at the Races," at the Princess Theater in Urbana.
The author of numerous film screenplays and books, Ebert became the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1975. He was also the first critic with a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame.
In promoting his book "The Great Movies II" on TODAY in 2005, Ebert discussed his obvious love of movies and why funny films deserved a place among the classics. "One of the reasons that movies are great, I think, is because they really make us feel."
Esquire interviewed Ebert in 2010 and quoted a journal entry the critic wrote as he came to grips with his own mortality. "I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder, and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting."
He is survived by his wife, Chaz, two stepchildren and four grandchildren.