Friends, Family Remember Roger Ebert at Funeral

"Roger was able to bring the spirit of American film alive," Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said

Legendary film critic Roger Ebert was remembered in a Chicago funeral service Monday that included several touching speeches from his friends and family.

Ebert, the Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic and television personality who made famous the thumbs-up, thumbs-down reviewing style, died last week at 70 after a years-long battle with cancer.

"Roger was able to bring the spirit of American film alive," Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said during the service, which began at 10 a.m. at Holy Name Cathedral and was open to friends and fans. "Whether or not we knew Roger, we knew he loved Chicago and Chicago loved Roger."

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said Ebert "had a servant's heart."

"We thank God for his purposeful life," Quinn said, ending his speech with "thumbs up!"

Activist Jonathan Jackson said Ebert "respected the imagination of people," calling him "a soldier with a pen" because of how he respected the African-American community. Jackson read a comment from Spike Lee, who called Ebert "a champion of my work and other black filmmakers."

Ebert's wife, Chaz Hammelsmith, said she almost didn't speak but knew Ebert would want to thank everyone for coming. "He had a heart big enough to accept and love all," she said.

Ebert's death came two days after he marked his 46th anniversary of becoming the Chicago Sun-Times' movie reviewer with a note on his website in which he said he would have to scale back his work as a result of his battle with cancer.

Millions of fans devoured his newspaper reviews, watched his groundbreaking television show and followed his blog. To many of those fans, he'll be the guy who shared their love of movies and helped them understand how they could enrich their lives.

For years, millions had watched Ebert walk into the Chicago Theatre every week, thumb ready for his latest review.

"He had a great generosity of spirit. He was generous in size, generous in style, and he had a generous heart," said Thea Flaum, the producer who first paired Ebert and Gene Siskel. "He was kind and thoughtful, he was always eager to look at the work of young new filmmakers and support what they were doing."

Siskel and Ebert's show became the highest-rated show in public television, and as they say in the movies, a star was born. Ebert quickly became a household name and many were rooting for him as he battled cancer.

The battle may be over, but Chicagoans will never forget.

"I want to pay my respects to a man I never met but feel I've known a long time," mourner Edward Cooper said before Ebert's funeral.

In lieu of flowers, mourners who wish to show support are asked to send donations to The Ebert Foundation, a nonprofit that supports arts and education programs.

A memorial tribute is also planned for 6 p.m. Thursday at the Chicago Theatre.

Contact Us