Roger Ebert Silenced by Jaw Cancer, Surgery

Roger Ebert Silenced by Jaw Cancer, Surgery
Roger Ebert
Courtesy of Esquire

updated 02/16/2010 at 05:00 PM EST

originally published 02/16/2010 05:15PM

Popular movie critic Roger Ebert has literally lost his voice since he underwent surgery for jaw cancer almost four years ago, but that hasn't stopped him from doing a sit-down with Esquire magazine for a shocking feature story in the March issue.

Ebert, 67, hasn't been able to speak since 2006, when he had a post-op procedure known as a tracheostomy – which involves making an incision in the windpipe for air to get through.

The Chicago Sun-Times movie reviewer uses special text-to-speech software and good old fashioned pen and paper to communicate, which is how he was able to do the Esquire interview and how he continues to write film reviews.

He's also developed his own form of sign language, where he traces letters with his finger on the palm of his hand.



Ebert has been through a number of surgeries, first to remove his malignant thyroid in 2002, then on his salivary glands in 2003 and his jaw in 2006. Complications led to the tracheostomy and the total loss of speech.

"What else can go wrong?" he jokingly wonders during the Esquire interview.

Ebert, whose face has been contorted by all the surgery, shakes his head "no" when asked whether a procedure to help him talk again is a possibility.

Ebert rose to fame co-hosting TV film review show At the Movies with Gene Siskel, a reviewer for competing paper the Chicago Tribune, until Siskel's death in 1999. Fellow Sun-Times reporter Richard Roeper took his place. A thumbs-up or thumbs-down for each movie critiqued was the program's trademark.

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