(Chicago Tribune)- Roger Ebert announced late Tuesday night that he is stepping back from some duties as the Chicago Sun-Times' film critic after a recurrence of cancer.
Calling the move a “leave of presence,” Ebert wrote on his online journal: “The ‘painful fracture’ that made it difficult for me to walk has recently been revealed to be a cancer. It is being treated with radiation, which has made it impossible for me to attend as many movies as I used to.”
The 70-year-old critic, one of Chicago's most widely embraced figures, wrote that he is "not going away" but will be relying more on others to review films, such as his Sun-Times colleague Richard Roeper.
"I'll be able at last to do what I've always fantasized about doing: reviewing only the movies I want to review," Ebert wrote, noting that he also "may write about what it's like to cope with health challenges and the limitations they can force upon you. It really stinks that the cancer has returned and that I have spent too many days in the hospital. So on bad days I may write about the vulnerability that accompanies illness. On good days, I may wax ecstatic about a movie so good it transports me beyond illness."
Ebert also announced that he is "re-launching the new and improved Rogerebert.com and taking ownership of the site under a separate entity, Ebert Digital, run by me, my beloved wife, Chaz, and our brilliant friend, Josh Golden of Table XI. Stepping away from the day-to-day grind will enable me to continue as a film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, and roll out other projects under the Ebert brand in the coming year."
The website has been part of Wrapports, the owners of the Sun-Times.
Ebert, who became the Chicago Sun-Times' film critic exactly 46 years ago Wednesday (that is, April 3, 1967) and rose to national prominence through a progression of movie-review TV series co-hosted with the late Tribune film critic Gene Siskel, has endured multiple health problems over the past 11 years. He was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2002 and cancerous growths in his salivary glands the following year. Complications from cancer and reconstructive surgeries in 2006 left Ebert without his lower jaw or the ability to speak or to eat solid foods.
Yet although Ebert had to relinquish his televised review duties on "Ebert & Roeper & the Movies," he remained active not only reviewing movies for the newspaper but also blogging and participating in social media. His essays for the online "Roger Ebert's Journal" led to the acclaimed 2011 memoir "Life Itself."
Ebert was the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, in 1975, and the continued impact of his writings, on politics as well as culture, led Forbes magazine to name him the Top Pundit in America in 2007. In 2010, Ebert became the Webby Awards' Person of the Year "for his contributions to the craft of online writing and journalism."
After further surgeries failed to restore Ebert's jaw and voice, the writer cooperated for an in-depth Esquire magazine profile that featured a large, startling photo of the critic.
"When I turned to it in the magazine, I got a jolt from the full-page photograph of my jaw drooping," he wrote in his online journal. "Not a lovely sight. But then I am not a lovely sight, and in a moment I thought, well, what the hell. It's just as well it's out there. That's how I look, after all."
Ebert fractured his hip in April 2008, requiring surgery, and again this past December — after which his wife, Chaz Ebert, tweeted: "Roger in hospital with hip fracture (tricky disco dance moves) but he is doing well, asking for computer, will probably tweet."
An Ebert tweet indeed followed: "Yes, fracture. But no surgery needed. Details follow. :)"
Ebert has remained in the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago for much of the time since the December fracture.
A story Thursday in the News-Gazette of Champaign-Urbana, where Ebert grew up and hosts his annual Ebertfest film festival (scheduled for April 17-21 this year), reported that the critic recently had a bout with pneumonia.
He has continued writing when possible. His most recent reviews, 21/2 -star takes on "The Host" and "From Up on Poppy Hill," ran Friday.