CHICAGO - Roger Ebert had the most-watched thumb in Hollywood.
With a twist of his wrist, the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic could render a decision that influenced a nation of moviegoers and could make or break a film.
The writer in the horn-rimmed glasses teamed up on TV with Gene Siskel to create a format for criticism that proved enormously appealing in its simplicity: uncomplicated reviews that were both intelligent and accessible and didn't talk down to ordinary movie fans.
Ebert, film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times since 1967, died Thursday at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, two days after announcing on his blog that he was undergoing radiation treatment for a recurrence of cancer. He was 70.
"So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I'll see you at the movies," Ebert wrote Tuesday.
Despite this influence, Ebert considered himself "beneath everything else a fan."
"I have seen untold numbers of movies and forgotten most of them, I hope, but I remember those worth remembering, and they are all on the same shelf in my mind," Ebert wrote in his 2011 memoir, "Life Itself."
After cancer surgeries in 2006, Ebert lost portions of his jaw and the ability to speak, eat and drink. But he went back to writing full time and eventually even returned to television.
In addition to his work for the Sun-Times, he became a prolific user of social media, connecting with fans on Facebook and Twitter.
Ebert's thumb - pointing up or down - was his trademark. It was the main logo of the long-running TV shows Ebert co-hosted, first with Siskel of the rival Chicago Tribune and - after Siskel's death in 1999 - with Sun-Times colleague Richard Roeper.
A "two thumbs-up" accolade was sure to find its way into the advertising for the movie in question.
The nation's best-known movie reviewer "wrote with passion through a real knowledge of film and film history, and in doing so helped many movies find their audiences," director Steven Spielberg said. His death is "virtually the end of an era, and now the balcony is closed forever."
In early 2011, Ebert launched a new show, "Ebert Presents At the Movies." The show had new hosts and featured Ebert in his own segment, "Roger's Office." He used a chin prosthesis and enlisted voice-over guests or his computer to read his reviews.
Fans admired his courage, but Ebert told The Associated Press that bravery had "little to do with it."
"You play the cards you're dealt," Ebert wrote in an email in January 2011. "What's your choice? I have no pain. I enjoy life, and why should I complain?"
His 1975 Pulitzer for distinguished criticism was the first, and one of only three, given to a film reviewer since the category was created in 1970.
In 2005 he received another honor when he became the first critic to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Ebert was also an author, writing more than 20 books that included two volumes of essays on classic movies and the popular "I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie," a collection of some of his most scathing reviews.
Ebert said he did not fear death, writing in 2010 that he didn't believe there was anything "on the other side of death to fear."
"I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state," he wrote. "I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter.
"You can't say it wasn't interesting."
Thumbs up; thumbs down
Excerpts of some of Roger Ebert's memorable reviews:
"CASABLANCA," 1941: There are greater movies. More profound movies. Movies of greater artistic vision or artistic originality or political significance. There are other titles we would put above it on our lists of the best films of all time. But when it comes right down to the movies we treasure the most, when we are - let us imagine - confiding in the secrets of our heart to someone we think we may be able to trust, the conversations sooner or later come around to the same seven words: "I really love Casablanca." "I do too."
"THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS," 1991: If the movie were not so well-made, indeed, it would be ludicrous. Material like this invites filmmakers to take chances and punishes them mercilessly when they fail.
"TITANIC," 1997: James Cameron's 194-minute, $200 million film of the tragic voyage is in the tradition of the great Hollywood epics. It is flawlessly crafted, intelligently constructed, strongly acted and spellbinding. If its story stays well within the traditional formulas for such pictures, well, you don't choose the most expensive film ever made as your opportunity to reinvent the wheel.
"THE GODFATHER," 1972: Although the movie is three hours long, it absorbs us so effectively it never has to hurry. There is something in the measured passage of time as Don Corleone hands over his reins of power that would have made a shorter, faster moving film unseemly. Even at this length, there are characters in relationships you can't quite understand unless you've read the novel. Or perhaps you can, just by the way the characters look at each other.
"KAZAAM," 1996: As for Shaquille O'Neal, given his own three wishes the next time, he should go for a script, a director and an interesting character.
"ISHTAR," 1987: Ishtar is a truly dreadful film, a lifeless, massive, lumbering exercise in failed comedy. ... This movie is a long, dry slog. It's not funny, it's not smart and it's interesting only in the way a traffic accident is interesting.
"HEAVEN'S GATE," 1980: It is so smoky, so dusty, so foggy, so unfocused and so brownish yellow that you want to try Windex on the screen.
Sources: Chicago Sun-Times and Universal Press Syndicate