CHICAGO | The funeral for acclaimed film reviewer Roger Ebert is today at Holy Name Cathedral in downtown Chicago.
The legendary Chicago Sun-Times critic died Thursday at age 70 after a long battle with cancer. Ebert's service starts at 10 a.m. and will be open to friends and fans, but there will be limited seating. The newspaper says a memorial tribute also is scheduled for Thursday. Details for that ceremony are being finalized.
Ebert's family asks that donations be sent to The Ebert Foundation instead of flowers. The nonprofit group supports arts and education programs.
Ebert worked for the Chicago Sun-Times for more than 40 years. He found more fame when he partnered with Chicago Tribune film critic Gene Siskel on their long-running television movie review show.
As the American news media and even the landscape of his beloved Chicago changed, Ebert evolved, too, gliding seamlessly from one medium to the next and helping to blaze a path forward for the newspaper industry he loved.
"Roger was one of the great conversationalists, whether it was in bars or on the street corner, and when he could not speak, he found a way to speak," said Rick Kogan, a longtime Chicago Tribune writer who knew Ebert for decades. "In many ways, he was generations ahead of his time."
When cancer took Ebert's voice, he did something that many in his generation would not: He embraced the digital age and kept talking.
He talked to his 800,000-plus Twitter followers. He talked to the 100,000 friends on his Facebook page, and he talked on his own blog. All the while, he kept talking in the pages of the Sun-Times, his employer for more than 40 years.
In the process, he demonstrated to other journalists who grew up in a print world that tweets had value.
"When I first went to Twitter, I thought it was stupid," said Michele Norris, a host and special correspondent for National Public Radio and a former Tribune reporter. "But he used it to rant and to educate and to push and cajole and make people laugh and think."
But Ebert never lost his love for newsprint.
"He was a big-city newspaper man. He took pride in all the history of that," said Barbara Scharres, director of programming at the Gene Siskel Film Center who had known Ebert since 1975 and wrote for rogerebert.com.
Ebert tweeted links to his reviews, posts from bloggers he admired and old pictures from long-ago film festivals. He was willing to interact with the public and answer their tweets, emails and Facebook messages. The effort earned him an army of followers on social media in addition to his newspaper readers and TV audience.
"He kept adding ways to communicate with people because he loved doing it," filmmaker and longtime friend Anna Thomas said. "He was in an ongoing conversation with a couple hundred million people all his life."
It was that adaptability that made Ebert's career so lasting, said Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, who wrote for rogerebert.com and was a host on "Ebert Presents At The Movies."
"In whatever direction readers went in, he would work within that medium," Vishnevetsky said.
Ebert even let readers share in his health struggles as he and his wife, Chaz, dealt with the cancer that cost him parts of his jaw and the ability to eat.
"He attracted legions of people to what he called his journey," said John Barron, a former Sun-Times executive editor. "People were fascinated with that and how he was so open."
That Ebert never left Chicago meant something to others who left to pursue movie careers.
Actor Joe Mantegna, who sometimes crossed paths with Ebert in the city's Old Town neighborhood, said Ebert made it harder to dismiss Chicago as a backwater and helped open the way for the city to become a film and art center.
"We as actors, they'd always remind you that you were from the Second City," Mantegna said. "Siskel and Ebert helped us get out of that Second City thing."