“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.
Beckie Stocchetti, program director for the nonprofit group Chicago Filmmakers, said she was a fan of Ebert’s newspaper reviews and followed him on Facebook, where he presented a platform for dialogue about film.
“It made him feel accessible, and it made the field accessible,” she said.
And even if younger readers had abandoned the newspapers that he so cherished, he was able to show them, as a newspaper man, the value of the written word.
“Working with him made you want to be a much clearer writer because he came from this great tradition of newspaper writing,” 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.”