Ebert eloquently defined his passion for film in a speech read by his wife, Chaz, at his Directors Guild honor.
"The movies come closer than any other art form in giving us the experience of walking in someone else's shoes," she read on Ebert's behalf. "They allow us an opportunity to experience what it would be like to live within another gender, race, religion, nationality, or period of time. They expand us, they improve us, and sometimes they ennoble us."
Along with reviews, Ebert did interviews and profiles of Hollywood's top talent, including legends such as John Wayne, Robert Mitchum and Alfred Hitchcock. He crossed to the other side during a leave of absence from the Sun-Times in 1969 to write the screenplay for "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls," which drew an adults-only X rating and became a cult favorite.
In 1975, Ebert and Gene Siskel, film critic for the rival Chicago Tribune, teamed for a show that began on Chicago's PBS station, then went nationwide — the two trading opinions on new movies from a set resembling a theater balcony. They continued their TV partnership with a syndicated show, each giving thumbs up or down on the films and engaging in lively sparring matches on air even as they remained close friends off camera.
Ebert continued the show with Sun-Times colleague Richard Roeper after Siskel's death in 1999. In early 2011, Ebert launched a new show, "Ebert Presents At the Movies." It had new hosts, but featured Ebert in his own segment, "Roger's Office." He used a chin prosthesis and enlisted voice-over guests to read his reviews.
While some called Ebert an inspiration, he told The Associated Press in an email in January 2011 that bravery and courage "have little to do with it."
"You play the cards you're dealt," Ebert wrote. "What's your choice? I have no pain. I enjoy life, and why should I complain?"
Spielberg lamented that with Ebert's death, the "balcony is closed forever."
Warner Bros. executive Goldstein prefers to imagine Ebert and Siskel reunited and doing what they loved — reviewing films.
"They're together. They're on seven nights a week, and they start tonight," Goldstein said. "And you can just see them on the balcony now."
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