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Roger Ebert funeral packs Holy Name with family, friends, and fans of film critic

Monday, April 08, 2013
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One of the nation's most influential film critics was laid to rest Monday.

Political leaders, relatives and people he had never met, but who chose movies based on the direction of his thumb, praised Roger Ebert.

"He didn't just dominate his profession, he defined it," said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a brief eulogy to hundreds of mourners who gathered at Holy Name Cathedral just blocks from where Ebert spent more than 40 years as the film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.

In a 90-minute funeral Mass, speakers took turns talking about how Ebert spent his career communicating his ideas about movies, social issues, the newspaper business and finally the health problems that left him unable to speak.

"My heart is full," said Chaz Ebert, Roger's wife of 22 years, at the service. She adjusted her hat, worn with a black veil. "Roger loved this hat. That's why I wore it today."

Her comment drew a laugh and applause from the crowd.

"He really was a soldier for social justice," said Chaz Ebert. "It didn't matter to him your race, your creed, color, level of ability, sexual orientation. He had a heart big enough to accept and love all."

Ebert's stepdaughter, Sonia Evans, also spoke.

"My favorite thing about Roger, aside from his intelligence, is the fact that he saw such special things about people. . . He realized connecting to people is the main reason why we are all here," Evans said.

"He embodied the values of this great city," Emanuel said. "Roger's name became synonymous with Chicago and the movies."

"He was a populist who understood it's the duty of all of us to take good care of those who don't have a champion," said Illinois Governor Pat Quinn.

Fellow critics and filmmakers also expressed admiration for Ebert.

"I got to have a handful of discussions with him in the screening room. He was still a lively conversationalist, even after he lost the ability to speak," said movie critic Matt Fagerholm. "He was just a wonderful person, a wonderful person."

"He was the only major critic that saw [independent] films were important," said Gregory Nava, a filmmaker who praised the Ebert devotion to indie film-making. "He said you need to make films that put people in somebody else's shoes."

Ebert was a fierce advocate for pushing lesser-known, independent films into the mainstream spotlight, and that was part of the praise offered Monday. That, and the reality that even though Ebert became a millionaire -- internationally recognized and revered -- he remained to friends, co-workers and readers a regular guy.

A private service was held for close friends and family on Sunday.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning movie reviewer died Thursday at age 70 after a long battle with cancer that left him unable to speak. He worked for the newspaper for more than 40 years. His final review was published over the weekend.

Many have offered condolences since Ebert's death, including President Barack Obama, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, actor Robert Redford and filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

A memorial tribute is scheduled for Thursday at the Chicago Theater that will include music, moments from Ebert's TV show, "At the Movies," and personal tributes from Ebert's wife, Chaz, and granddaughter, Raven.

Thursday's memorial, which starts at 7 p.m., is open to the public, but reservations are required. To reserve a seat, call 773-528-7700 or email rsvp@ebertpresents.com

Seats are available on a first come, first serve basis.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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