04/21/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT
Chicago Tribune film critic Gene Siskel, known for the thumbs-up and thumbs-down reviews he and Roger Ebert shared on their popular TV show, died Saturday. He was 53. Siskel had surgery in May to remove a growth from his brain, but he managed to return to the syndicated TV show "Siskel & Ebert" soon afterward. He announced only two weeks ago he was taking time off from that show to spend time recuperating from the surgery. He died at Evanston Hospital near Chicago, surrounded by his family. Among professionals, Gene was known as the friendly one (though Ebert was considered to be the better writer), and both he and Roger brought movie criticism down from its ivory tower and into people's living rooms. Gene is survived by his wife, Marlene, two daughters and a son. The TV show is expected to continue with guest co-hosts, though without the special chemistry of Siskel and Ebert, the program's long-term future is uncertain.
- Of his partner, Roger Ebert wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times: "We did the TV show together for 24 years. It was a strange format: two ordinary-looking guys from Chicago, sitting in a balcony talking about the movies. One question we were asked, again and again, was: 'Do you really hate each other?' There were days at the beginning of our relationship when the honest answer sometimes was 'yes.' It was unnatural for two men to be rivals six days of the week and sit down together on the seventh. But over the years respect grew between us, and it deepened into friendship and love."