Hollywood and indie film directors, actor John Cusack, actor Chris Tucker, comedian and philanthropist Dick Gregory, former Playboy chair Christie Hefner and the president of Sony Pictures Classics, and the lead critics from Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and the Chicago Film Critics Association, will join other celebrities, friends and colleagues to pay tribute to iconic film critic Roger Ebert’s life and prolific career at “Roger Ebert: A Celebration of Life,” this Thursday, April 11, at 7 p.m. at the Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St.
As Ebert loved gospel music, the evening will include musical performances by Walt Whitman and the Soul Children of Chicago and the Grammy-award winning Charles Jenkins and Fellowship Chicago Choir. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the program will start promptly at 7 p.m.
Guests will be treated to footage of great moments with Ebert and his co-host of many years, Gene Siskel, from their movie review shows. There will be heartfelt tributes from his wife of 22 years, Chaz, stepdaughter, Sonia Evans, and granddaughter, Raven Evans, in addition to the following confirmed speakers:
Ebert will be honored next week, April 17-21, at Ebertfest, his film festival in Champagne-Urbana, Illinois, celebrating its 15th year. He programmed all the movies before his death. Ebert also will be honored posthumously with the Sundance Vanguard Leadership Award, to be presented by Robert Redford on June 5 in Los Angeles. The event is being chaired by television writer and producer Norman Lear and his wife, Lyn.
Redford said of Ebert: "Among the many things I admire about Roger Ebert is how he has long supported freedom of artistic expression. When I started Sundance in 1980, and when few would support us, Roger was there. This was one of the ways he communicated his forward-thinking outlook. He was one of the first to support our artists. His influence and reach is as meaningful as his personal passion for cinema, and he certainly deserves this award."
Ebert’s long relationship with the Chicago Theatre, where he attended film screenings for years, makes it a fitting venue for an event celebrating a man dubbed “the world’s film critic.” Ebert also has the only star on the sidewalk in front of the theater beneath the grand marquee. The Chicago Sun-Times critic of 46 years died April 4 in Chicago. A day earlier, he had announced on his blog he was relaunching his web site, RogerEbert.com but taking a “leave of presence.” The redesigned, highly interactive site was launched Monday night.
Thursday’s memorial tribute is free and open to the public, but space is limited. To reserve a seat send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 773-528-7700. Tickets can be picked up at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St., on Wednesday from 12 to 8 p.m. and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tickets are first-come-first-served and required for entry.