A very different looking and sounding Roger Ebert appeared recently on Oprah Winfrey’s pre Oscar special. Roger Ebert is probably best known as a film critic.
For several years Ebert and his partner, Gene Siskel hosted, Sneak Previews…At the Movies with Siskel and Ebert, and Siskel and Ebert at the Movies. They previewed upcoming movies and critiqued them.
The program was widely successful until 1999 when Gene Siskel died of brain cancer. After Siskel’s death, Ebert teamed with Richard Roeper for the series Ebert and Roeper at the Movies. Ebert appeared on the show until 2006 when he suffered post surgical complications after surgery for thyroid cancer which left him unable to talk.
Currently he uses a computer voice system to speak. He writes down the words he wants to say, and the computer says them. He first chose a computer voice with a British accent, but has since decided on a more American sounding one. But the good news he wanted to show everyone, was that a company in Scotland is designing a voice that sounds just like his original one.
The years since being diagnosed with thyroid cancer have been difficult for Roger Ebert. He has undergone several surgeries in which doctors removed his thyroid and salivary glands which altered his voice. Just when he was thought to be cancer free, symptoms returned. Doctors had to remove additional cancerous tissue, his entire right jaw and his lower mouth. This surgery nearly killed him when his carotid artery burst. When he recovered he was left unable to drink, eat or speak. He fell in 2008 and broke his hip.
On the Oprah show he appeared upbeat, but very fragile. The lower half of his face was heavily bandaged. Doctors want to do restorative surgery but Ebert says “No more.” Chaz, his wife of 18 years, appeared with him. She said she has not heard him speak since July 1, 2006.
Together, husband and wife (Ebert using his computer voice) described their typical day. Ebert has a full time live-in nurse to attend him. He receives intravenous drips 4 times a day for nourishment from a gravity drip into his stomach. Husband and wife usually eat in private. Ebert misses the socialization eating involves, as well as food and drink, but he needs his privacy now. Some days when he is feeling OK, he asks his wife to eat some of the food he used to like, just to see her enjoy it.
He is at peace with his condition, and still manages to watch 3 or 4 movies a day. When asked his picks for the Oscars, he was ready;
* Best Picture….The Hurt Locker
* Best Director….Kathryn Bigelow….The Hurt Locker
* Best Actor…Jeff Bridges…Crazy Heart
* Best Actress….Sandra Bullock….The Blind Side
The Oprah Winfrey Show….3/2/2010