LOS ANGELES (AP) — Roger Ebert could be tough on filmmakers, but unlike many critics, he earned their respect.
So much so that they claimed him as one of their own when the Directors Guild of America made Ebert an honorary lifetime member at the group's awards ceremony four years ago.
What better testimony for a life's work in a profession that typically draws sneers from filmmakers and fans alike? But then Ebert, who died Thursday at age 70, was not just any critic. He was THE critic.
At the Chicago Sun-Times since 1967 and through decades as a pioneering film reviewer on television, Ebert championed tiny gems that he scouted out at film festivals and took Hollywood's biggest names to task when they missed the mark.
Ebert drew his own criticism that the thumbs-up, thumbs-down trademark of his TV shows over-simplified the way we look at films. Yet with his chubby frame and thick-rimmed glasses, he popularized the notion of the dweebish critic as arbiter of cultural taste, inspiring a generation of TV and online reviewers much as Woodward and Bernstein inspired a generation of investigative journalists.
Just as inspirational was how Ebert continued the work he loved through repeated ailments. He lost parts of his jaw and the ability to speak after cancer surgeries in 2006, yet he came back to writing fulltime and eventually returned to television.
And that famous thumb barely scratched the surface of Ebert's work as a critic, student and just plain lover of film.
"Roger loved movies. They were his life. His reviews went far deeper than simply thumbs up or thumbs down," said Steven Spielberg, one of the filmmakers who honored Ebert at the Directors Guild ceremony. "He wrote with passion through a real knowledge of film and film history, and in doing so, helped many movies find their audiences."