February 17th, 2010
12:33 PM ET

Roger Ebert keeps voice alive through written words

Roger EbertAfter undergoing a surgery to treat cancer four years ago, Roger Ebert was left unable to talk and missing parts of his jaw. But while he may not be able to speak, the celebrated film critic's voice has lived on through his words.

In the years since, the prolific author (and first film critic to win a Pulitzer, which he won in 1975) has come to rely on his famous thumbs and his gift with turns of phrase to communicate on the job and at home as well.

In a touching interview with Esquire magazine, Ebert expressed himself through phrases jotted on Post-It notes and a set of computer speakers wired to broadcast his thoughts as he types them into a text-to-speech program.

"When I am writing, my problems become invisible and I am the same person I always was," Ebert wrote in a journal entry, an online log that he continuously updates. His journal, he said, is saving him. "All is well. I am as I should be."

This sense of optimism is relayed in nearly every snippet Ebert offered about his post-surgery life.

He wrote on a piece of scrap paper after a passerby gave Ebert a glance filled with sadness, "There is no need to pity me. Look how happy I am."

Indeed, since losing not only his voice but also his jaw in a series of operations, Ebert has come to the conclusion that it's a crime to not at least try to contribute joy to the world.

"I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best that we can do," he said. "I didn't always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out."

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soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. praca

    ou did a a-ok annoyance creating a words in behalf of the reason photographers like me with no participation with stock. You explained so much that I needed to know. I reflect on it with intense interest. You are a peerless writer. I’m gratified to inventor met you and positive that you are as helpful and clubby as your oeuvre indicates. Your advancement is appreciated.

    April 13, 2011 at 12:51 am | Report abuse |
  2. BReeZy

    It's the inside looking out now, and you wear it well! I absolutely love you and have adored you for many years. Thanks for the memories, both past and present! Before every moment, there's a moment.
    I believe the splendor of perfection resides within imperfection. Every element and variations in irregularities has natural components. These become perfect as they are,just like you! So, just think what you know to think. Say what you know to say and do what you know to do.

    Everyday–lot's and lot's!!

    Thumbs-Up!

    February 20, 2010 at 1:12 am | Report abuse |
  3. Brian DeLay

    You will not be identified in history by your health issues. You will be judged by your words. You are a brilliant writer, and one of the most insightful film critics ever. You are the benchmark for every other critic in the business. Your beauty flows from your passion for great films. Keep your essays and critiques coming, and thank you for your courage and talent. You make me proud to be from central Illinois. I award you a thumbs up and four stars for your attitude and optimistic approach to these challenges. Thank you for all you've written and all that you will continue to write.

    February 19, 2010 at 11:03 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Kerry Anne Ducey

    My father, a County Court Judge in New York, suffered from head and neck cancer. His doctor at Memorial Sloan Kettering told us operating was not possible because it would disfigure him. I would take him anyway I could get him right now.

    He lost his ability to speak and eat. He eventually received a tracheotomy and a feeding tube and died from the inability to breathe. It still bothers me today. I pray for those who have to suffer in this way and the caregivers in desperate search for a remedy.

    Disfiguring? Who cares. As long as my dad's there inside, it matters not what he looks like.

    God Bless.

    February 19, 2010 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Stephanie Ray

    Mr. Ebert:

    I always tuned in when you were up in the balcony with the inimitable Mr. Siskel and then with Mr. Roeper. I've continued to regularly search out your reviews online. No one writes about the movies with more depth, wit, insight or creativity.

    Reading about how you've dealt with your cancer has only made you more of a hero to me, in a way that's far more important than your film critiques ever could. You are an inspiration to all. May you continue to fight the good fight for a long, long time.

    February 19, 2010 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jennifer

    God Bless you, Roger. My mom is in remission from oral/tongue cancer and has lost 1/2 her tongue, lymph nodes & a lot of her salivary glands. She is a tough lady though & is getting through it.

    Roger shows that ANYONE can survive this, it just takes family, friends and faith.

    February 19, 2010 at 8:10 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mike from Tucson, AZ

    I watched your show since back in the 70's, with Siskel. Your reviews have always been helpful, funny, ironic and always honest. You are an inspiration to all of us in your generation–and to folks of all ages. Keep as well as you can, my friend. Mike

    February 19, 2010 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
  8. J. Levy

    What an inspiring way to view life. There is so little joy sometimes, Roger is right: It's a crime not to contribute some if we have the chance.

    February 19, 2010 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Joe from the North Side

    Roger Ebert is lucky he is so strong emotionally.
    How many of us would be as fearless?

    February 19, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Henri

    His attitude is respectable. God bless him.

    February 19, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Justice786

    I am proud of you, Roger. You are leading by example, and are a shining beacon for those of us who value more what we are on the inside rather than on the outside.

    February 19, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Christine Zittle

    It is deeply satisfying to see your picture and hear from you. At first, it felt as if you had dropped off the face of the earth. Your sudden absence from our lives felt like a death (I'll bet it did to you too). And now the joy (for you too) that you are amoung us, outstanding star that YOU are, has made me feel the goodness of God's blessings upon us all. With your genius and purity of spirit off the air, others lack of decency corrupted the show and othersselfishly reduced it to cheap Hollywood trash and inappropriate behavior on the air. Well, forget all that. We are with you Roger. And we thank God you are with us.

    February 19, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Tom

    7 years ago this month I was diagnosed with oral cancer. Never smoked in my life and was a infrequent social drinker. 4 surgeries, 35 radiation treatments and 30 treatments in a hyperbaric chamber. The fibula was removed from my left leg to make a jaw bone in addition to a titanium implant. I was fed through a G-tube from 15 months. The new normal for me means I drink 4 liquid supplements a day plus "real food" which my wife purres for me. I have no salivary gland function and the motor nerve to my tongue was cut so I have limited tongue movement. I volunteer on a regular basis, go to a gym 4 days a week and travel as often as possible. Not being able to eat out is a real problem. I haven't flown any place since. I'm concerned about access to nutrition when flying.

    February 19, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Abby

    Mr. Ebert, your courage and refusal to give in to your circumstances are truly inspirational. God bless and keep you, dear sir!

    February 19, 2010 at 8:29 am | Report abuse |
  15. Pookie

    I'm so glad that some of you had the class, not to address him as "Roger." He's most likely NOT your personal friend, so have the intelligence and sophistication to use the proper salutation.

    February 19, 2010 at 6:00 am | Report abuse |
  16. Paul

    Thanks Mr Ebert, I hear you loud and clear.

    February 18, 2010 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
  17. lisa-marie

    God bless you, Mr. Ebert!

    February 18, 2010 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
  18. pam

    Mr. Ebert, I hear you! Your voice is loud, clear, funny, articulate and as always command respect even when we disagree on a movie. You are truly a motivating spirit . Being blessed and knowing it is God's way of proclaiming you as a vital force to be reckoned with.

    May blessings surround you always

    February 18, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Trash

    An absolute hero.

    February 18, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  20. Joanne Stefano

    My husband and I spent many wonderful hours discussing movies with Roger at his seminars at the University of Virginia Film Festivals. As a fellow cancer survivor, I applaud his tenacity, his zest for life and his 'never give up' attitude.' Long may he live to critique movies, write books and enjoy every single drop of life!

    February 18, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  21. wade jordan

    What a wonderful person. He has touched so many lives in so many positive ways and now we are blessed that he continues to do so. Go Roger!

    February 18, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  22. robert cayer

    In addition to loving movies, as you do, I have something in common.
    I had an operation to remove a malignant cancerous parotid gland
    from my mouth, which was successful, except forr the loss of 50
    pounds and 5 teeth. I am lucky that the jaw was not affected, as was
    yours. Your courage in dealing with your disability has given me the
    joy of knowing how blessed I am.

    February 18, 2010 at 9:33 am | Report abuse |
  23. mary r

    Thank you Roger, you help show there really aren't disabilities but possibilities. Your courage and whit are inspiring and help remind us all to never give up.
    Bless you and your dear wife for your examples.

    February 17, 2010 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
  24. Marcia A. Buckenmyer

    I have been an avid fan over the years and being your age have followed your career throughtout my own. Being a newly retired RN, I deeply appreciate your challenges and consider you an inspiration.

    My one regret is that I did not take a cruise when both you and Siskel
    were at your prime. It would have been a pleasure to have engaged with the two of you, since I share love of the movies.

    February 17, 2010 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
  25. dman

    War Roger Ebert. My hero.

    February 17, 2010 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
  26. Kathryn

    So glad to hear you are happy, and doing what you love. You are a TRUE inspiration and a gift to us all.

    February 17, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  27. I-Like-Movies

    I started watching him and Gene Siskel on TV when I was 17, and Roger Ebert sure made my life a lot more than a little happier.

    February 17, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
  28. Clair M.

    You are absolutely AMAZING Mr. Ebert. You are a testament in what life is truly about....life keeps going :)

    February 17, 2010 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  29. Joni

    LOVE YOU, ROGER! You are a true inspiration!

    February 17, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  30. nenecats Houston

    I will certainly buy a copy of Esquire to read the interview. I also
    watched Siskel & Ebert. If we gave a pulitzer for class, you would
    be picked for your second.

    February 17, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  31. LDR

    Thumbs up for Mr. Ebert. Fortunately for him "the balcony is not closed" All the best.

    February 17, 2010 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  32. C. Reeder

    Kudos. Honestly I thought that Mr. Ebert had passed years ago since he wasn't in the "spotlight" any more. But this article not only made me aware that he is still with us, and has come out the other side of a difficult battle, but more important, he won the battle and wears his heart of gold with pride. Cheers Robert!

    February 17, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  33. mark

    Reading Ebert and thinking about him does make me sad-not for him but for myself. Because, I'm pretty sure that I don't have his resiience, strength, and sense of purpose. Just as I'm equally sure that in the end, something is headed my way that is going to require it.

    February 17, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  34. Stanley Binnie

    Roger–I think we were in the same English class at the University of Illinois back in 1962 or '63. As I recall the class met in a room in the old Field House. I was impressed by your views even then.
    My first wife (since deceased) grew up on the same street in Champaign as Bill Geist of CBS.
    I always enjoyed your movie reviews and made a point to check out your opinion before seeing a movie.
    You are a great inspiration to all–keep up the fight.

    February 17, 2010 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
  35. Janice Carlsten

    Roger, you rock! You are an inspiration to all of us slogging along in the world feeling sorry for ourselves for various relatively unimportant reasons. If we approached life and the future like you do, the world would be a much better place! Congrats on your recovery, and here's to wishing you many more years of healthy reporting!

    February 17, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  36. JPX

    I love Ebert! Can't he be given a prosthetic jaw?

    February 17, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  37. Kevin T. Baldwin

    Having watched "Siskel and Ebert" since their PBS "Sneak Previews" days, now whenever I read anything composed by Mr. Ebert, I always hear his voice. I thank God for that because I have always found him to be an extremely engaging author with an amiable personality.

    February 17, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  38. Arlene in Prescott Valley, AZ

    Roger, for years I've been counting on your comments about movies to help me make a decision whether to see them or not. You have great taste. I know because it matches mine! Thanks!

    February 17, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  39. Debra R

    Ebert is a true example of what a cancer survivor can do! Good job!

    February 17, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  40. cbhare

    Smart and strong, really positive piece – Good for you Roger. Keep on writing.

    February 17, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |

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