Updated 04/08/13 – 11:45 a.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Hundreds gathered at Holy Name Cathedral on Monday to say a final farewell to Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert.
CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports many mourners arrived as early as 3 a.m., to wait in the pouring rain for a seat inside the cathedral for the 10 a.m. service.
The cathedral, which seats about 1,500 people, was filled for the service. While the first few rows were reserved for the family, the rest of the pews were filled by fans on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Ebert had battled with thyroid and salivary gland cancer. Even after surgery for his cancer cost him his voice, he continued writing reviews and other personal features on a wide variety of subjects on his blog.
He died Thursday, at the age of 70, just days after announcing his cancer had returned.
Ebert’s granddaughter Raven Evans spoke first at the funeral on Monday, reciting scripture.
“Thus says the Lord, who opens a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters, who leads out chariots and horsemen, a powerful army till they lay prostrate together, never to rise,” she said.
Just before the reading, Ebert’s family and friends escorted the casket inside. Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper, who co-hosted “At The Movies” with Ebert after Ebert’s longtime partner Gene Siskel passed away, was one of the pallbearers.
Eberts wife, Chaz, called her husband Roger “a soldier for social justice.”
“And it didn’t matter to him, your race, creed, color, level of ability, sexual orientation, he had a heart big enough to accept and love all,” said Chaz Ebert.
Mayor Emanuel said Ebert embodied the spirit of Chicago and he counted on his reviews to guide him in his selection of movies to see. He also reflected on Ebert’s illness, saying Ebert did not chose cancer, but chose how to respond to it.
“Rather than allow his struggle to separate himself from his readers, it became another way for Roger to relate to us. With every one of his reviews, his TV appearances, his tweets, Roger shared with us one lesson: Life is too short not to be shared with others,” said Mayor Emanuel.
Ebert’s honesty made his film reviews a huge hit.
“The thing about him is, if you didn’t agree with him, and you sent him an email … I know I used to write him a letter, and he would answer,” one Ebert fan said as she waited in line outside the cathedral Monday morning. “It impressed me that he would write back.”
Online film critic Matt Fagerholm got to Holy Name Cathedral at 3 a.m. Monday to make sure he’d be able to get in and pay tribute to the man he considered a colleague and an idol.
“I got to have a handful of conversations with him in the screening room, and he was just wonderful,” he said. “He still voiced his opinion, even without his voice. I remember I was defending Juno and he tapped me on the shoulder and gave me a thumbs up. I mean, that’s the kind of guy he was. He was wonderful.”
Chicago filmmaker Prashant Bhargava said Ebert reviewed his film debut “Patang” last summer and gave it four stars. He called it “a huge honor.”
“I was stunned. I mean I spent seven years making the film. It was my first feature. … It just put us on the map, but more, it just made the whole journey worthwhile,” he said. “The first memories that I have of filmmaking, or film, are watching ‘Siskel & Ebert’ as a kid, so as far as sparking an interest in cinema, it was Ebert that made it happen.”
Even people who never met Ebert turned out in the rain early Monday to pay their respects.
Edward Cooper said he felt he knew Ebert just by reading his reviews.
“The Weekend Plus, reading the Sun-Times, the Weekend Plus review was not the same without him. … I couldn’t get more into anything unless I knew what was his reviews on that first, every Friday,” he said.
Ebert’s family has asked that donations be made to the Ebert Foundation in lieu of flowers. The foundation supports arts and education programs.
For those who couldn’t make it to Monday’s funeral, a memorial tribute is being planned for Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Chicago Theatre.
The program will include music, highlights from Ebert and fellow TV critic Gene Siskel’s TV show “At the Movies,” and personal tributes from his wife and granddaughter.
For more details on the memorial at the Chicago Theatre, click here.
To reserve a seat, please call 773-528-7700 or email firstname.lastname@example.org starting at 10 a.m. on Monday. Details will be provided for picking up advance tickets at on off-site location. Seats will be on a first-come, first-served basis.