For Roger Ebert, there was one person in his life who got a perennial thumbs up: his wife Chaz.
The fabled film critic found the love of his life relatively late in life, after spending most of his adult years as a bachelor (and even once going on a date with Oprah Winfrey). The woman he'd marry at age 50 would become his best friend and life partner right away, and after Ebert's cancer diagnosis more than a decade ago, would become his liaison to concerned fans (often using humor to share bad news) and the rock he leaned on throughout his illness, until the day he died.
“I am devastated by the loss of my love, Roger -- my husband, my friend, my confidante and oh-so-brilliant partner of over 20 years,” Chaz said via a statement on Thursday. “We had a lovely, lovely life together, more beautiful and epic than a movie. It had its highs and the lows, but was always experienced with good humor, grace and a deep abiding love for each other."
So who was Chaz Ebert and why was her relationship with Roger so special? Read on for a peek inside their marriage.
The scoop on Chaz Hammelsmith Ebert.
Chaz is a Chicago native and received a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and got her law degree from Chicago's DePaul College of Law, eventually working as a litigator at the law firm of Bell, Boyd, and Lloyd. She married an electrical engineer and had two children, divorcing after 17 years of marriage.
It was love at first sight … or at least second.
According to Roger, he was dining with Eppie Lederer, better known as advice columnist Ann Landers, after an AA meeting in 1989 (he first sought help for alcohol dependency 10 years earlier) and Ebert went to say hello to a couple of people he knew at a nearby table, who happened to be dining with trial attorney Chaz Hammelsmith. "I didn't know her, but I'd seen her before and was attracted. I liked her looks, her voluptuous figure, and the way she presented herself. She took a lot of care with her appearance and her clothes never looked quickly thrown together," Roger wrote in a blog post for the Chicago Sun-Times in July 2012, to mark their 20th wedding anniversary. "She seemed to be holding the attention of her table. You never get anywhere with a woman you can't talk intelligently with."
Roger fell hard on their first date.
"She had a particular quality. She didn't seem to be a 'date' but an equal. She knew where she stood, and I found that attractive," he shared in the piece. "I was going out to Los Angeles a few days later, and I asked her to come along. We formed a serious bond rather quickly. It was an understood thing. I was in love, I was serious, I was ready for my life to change."
She wooed him with her … grammar?
Both Chaz and Roger have talked about how, during the early days of their relationship the two would write love letters in the form of daily emails to each other. "Her love letters were poetic, idealistic and often passionate," he recalled. "I responded as a man and a lover. As a newspaperman, I observed she never, ever, made a copy-reading error."
Chaz quit her law job after they married so she could join Roger during his frequent travels, but would eventually become vice president of the Ebert Company.
Roger insisted it wasn't just a title, and just the business mind he needed to counter his. "She organized my contracts, protected my interests, negotiated, wheeled and dealed. I've never understood business and have no patience with business meetings or legal details," Roger wrote in the 2012 Sun-Times post. "I had a weakness for signing things just to make them go away. She observed this, and defended me. It was a partnership."
After Ebert had part of his jaw removed in 2006, the couple chose to eat their meals separately.
"I don't like to eat in front of him because it just seems kind of cruel," Chaz said during a 2010 interview on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." "He prefers to [have meals] private." Ebert had to be fed through an IV drip four times a day.
After her husband’s hip fracture late last year, Chaz kept fans in the loop with humor.
"Roger in hospital with hip fracture (tricky disco dance moves) but he is doing well, asking for computer, will probably tweet," she tweeted on December 7, followed a day later by, "Roger Sweetie, lets heal that fracture and get you Dancing With The Stars as soon as possible." She also expressed frustration a few weeks later: "Hospitals have up and down days. This is a down day, intense PT, but Roger is making progress. Fractured hip a bitch," she wrote alongside a younger photo of Roger.
Towards the end, the couple created a language of signals.
After his cancer robbed him of the ability to use his voice, Chaz was constantly by Ebert's side to help him communicate. While he often wrote notes, he used different hand signals to explain what he wanted, as demonstrated during the Oprah segment. He had a signal for asking Chaz to read to others from his notepad, one for requesting a trip to the men's room, and there was one signal, Chaz explained that had "a lot of meaning." When Roger placed his right hand on his heart in front of his wife, it meant, "I love you."
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