HOLLYWOOD—Roger Ebert became the first film critic to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at a ceremony on June 23, 2005. His star is located on the west side of Hollywood Boulevard, directly in front of the El Capitan theater, where Jimmy Kimmel Live is filmed, and across the street from the Dolby Theater, where the Oscars take place.
This afternoon, shortly after news broke that Ebert had died from thyroid cancer, a tourist named William Rorrer walked past Ebert's star, then stopped for a moment and looked back.
"I got a text from a news app while we were eating lunch, that's what caught my eye when we were walking by," said Rorrer, on vacation from Washington DC, with his wife, Liz. "To me, he always seemed like the gold standard critic."
Soon, TV news crews began setting up their tripods and trained their cameras on Ebert's star.
James Hale, a security guard for the Jimmy Kimmel Show, helped arrange the red velvet ropes outside the El Capitan in order to block off Ebert's star from foot traffic. Hale said he always trusted Ebert's judgment. "Some of the movies Roger used to recommend, way back in the day, we would go see them, me and my wife." His favorite movie is What's Love Got To Do With It. (Ebert called it "powerful" in his 1993 review.)
As the afternoon passed more photographers arrived, including one from Splash News bearing a tasteful bouquet of hydrangea to place on Ebert's star. The flowers drew the attention of other passerby on Hollywood Boulevard, like Todd Porter, in town from San Francisco to attend Kimmel.
"I remember watching the first broadcasts of At The Movies when it got syndicated, and would watch it to learn about all the films that I wasn't old enough to see," Porter said, chuckling. "It's really sad. But I think his role as a critic, which is kind of a tough thing to be for so long, was really appreciated by people inside the industry and outside as well."
After getting the shot he needed, the photographer from Splash News left, taking his hydrangeas with him, and for a little while tourists seemed to stop noticing the ropes around Ebert's star.
Then Leron Gubler, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, arrived with a large standing display of orchids, and a ribbon across them bearing Ebert's name.
"Whenever someone with a star on the walk of fame passes away, we put an arrangement of flowers on the star and usually within a short time other people will leave mementos there, be it cards, flowers, candles, teddy bears," Gubler said.
Gubler himself was present the day Ebert received his star and remembered it warmly.
"He was excited about it. I think he was a little, not embarrassed but, when you're always reviewing other people's things, when you're in the limelight like that it's always a little bit intimidating," Gubler said. "But a great honor. He was very gracious."
The ceremony took place after his first diagnosis with thyroid cancer, and just a year after he would be diagnosed a second time and lost the ability to speak — and he had lost his long time co-host, Gene Siskel. "That's why it doesn't say Siskel and Ebert. By the time he was nominated Siskel had already passed away," Gubler said.