ABC critic made reviews fun


Joel Siegel, the upbeat and often joyous film critic for ABC's "Good Morning America" for 26 years, died Friday after a long battle against colon cancer, the network said. He was 63.

Siegel, who was surrounded by family and friends when he died in New York, had kept working until just two weeks ago, and colleagues said that he had maintained such a positive attitude that few people realized how sick he was.

He was a fixture on "GMA" since joining the broadcast in 1981, and he reviewed films for WABC-TV in New York for 31 years. His annual Oscar broadcast, "Joel Siegel's Road to the Academy Awards," aired for 10 years on WABC and was syndicated to more than 100 markets nationwide.

Siegel won five New York Emmy Awards and earned a Tony Award nomination.

"Joel was an important part of ABC News, and we will miss him," ABC News president David Westin said. "He was a brilliant reviewer and a great reporter. But much more, he was our dear friend and colleague. Our thoughts and prayers are with Joel's family."

His Friday movie reviews were a staple on "GMA," and no matter how bad the film, it could not daunt Siegel's spirits.

He delivered his pans and plaudits in a terse but witty style. Reviewing one popular film last year, he said: " 'The Pursuit of Happyness' gets a C for spelling and an A for acting. It could also get an Oscar for Will Smith."

In a review of "Letters From Iwo Jima," he said the Japanese-language war drama was "the only contemporary film I've ever reviewed that I felt safe calling a masterpiece. It's not about the enemy, it's about humanity, and (director) Clint Eastwood proves you don't have to understand the language to understand the heart."

Of Matthew McConaughey in "We Are Marshall," he said the performer's appeal "has long evaded me both as a pinup and as an actor. His constant ticks, bad hair and strained syntax as a coach fumble what should have been the tragic and inspirational story of the rebuilding of Marshall University's football team after a devastating plane crash."

"No one had more fun writing about a bad movie than Joel," said Dave Davis, president and GM of WABC-TV.

Siegel was outspoken about his battle with cancer, reporting on his illness, writing a book about it and lobbying on Capitol Hill on behalf of others afflicted with the disease.

In 1991, Siegel and actor Gene Wilder founded Gilda's Club, named for Wilder's late wife, comedian Gilda Radner. It's a nonprofit organization offering emotional and social support for cancer patients and their families and friends.

Siegel was born in Los Angeles on July 7, 1943. He began his career as a radio newscaster, a book reviewer for the Los Angeles Times and a freelance writer for such publications as Rolling Stone and Sports Illustrated. He also served as a joke writer for Sen. Robert Kennedy and worked as a copywriter and producer at an advertising agency, where his creative projects included inventing ice cream flavors for Baskin-Robbins.

In 1972, Siegel began as a feature reporter for WCBS-TV and hosted a show on WCBS Radio. Four years later, he joined WABC as the station's entertainment critic.

Siegel is survived by his son, Dylan, and wife, Ena Swansea, an artist.