Friends, family and fans braved chilly temperatures and pouring rain in order to pay tribute to Pulitzer prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert at his funeral in Chicago on Monday (April 8). The 11 a.m. service, for which attendees began lining up as early as 7:45 a.m. included moving tributes by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Ebert’s widow Chaz, his stepdaughter Sonia Evans and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn.
“He didn’t just dominate his profession. He defined it,” Emanuel said during his remarks at the mass held at Holy Name Cathedral. “Like generations of Chicagoans, before I went to a movie, I needed to find out two things: what times does it start and what did Roger think about it.”
Ebert’s widow Chaz tearfully admitted that she had difficulty making it to the funeral.
"This morning I didn't want to get out of bed," she said. "And then it felt like he was there with me," adding that she wore her elaborate black veiled hat as a tribute to her husband. "He loves this hat, that's why I wore it today."
Ebert’s stepdaughter Evans expressed gratitude for his unconditional love and for embracing her family. "Roger, I want to thank you for nothing more than being you and loving us," she said.
Jonathan Jackson, son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, called Ebert a “soldier with a pen.”
"He didn't just review movies, he collected our cultural artifacts. He shared with us how important imagination is,"Jackson said, as reported by the Chicago Tribune. Jackson also shared remarks from director Spike Lee, who Jackson contacted ahead of the funeral for his thoughts about Ebert.
"Ebert was a champion of my work and other black filmmakers," Jackson said Lee told him. "Roger fought the good fight. Roger fought the power."
Gov. Quinn thanked God for Ebert’s purposeful life. “We love you, Roger, we always will,” he said at the end of his speech. “Thumbs up.”
Other notable attendees included: filmmaker Gregory Nava and documentarian Steve James (“Hoop Dreams” and “The Interrupters”), who is planning to make a documentary on Ebert’s life. and fellow film critic and Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper, who served as a pallbearer.
Ebert died last week after a long battle with cancer. He was 70 years old. A public memorial tribute has been planned for Thursday at the Chicago Theater, one of Ebert’s frequent screening venues and where a star on the sidewalk honors him. His final review of Terrence Malick’s “To The Wonder” was published by the Sun-Times, where Ebert served as a critic for more than 40 years, on Saturday April 6).