NEW YORK – Film critic Roger Ebert lost his ability to speak nearly four years ago, when he underwent a tracheostomy, a procedure that opens an airway through an incision in the windpipe, after surgery for cancer in his jaw.
In an interview in the new issue of Esquire magazine, the 67-year-old film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times uses pen and paper and text-to-speech computer software to communicate. He's developed a kind of rudimentary sign language, and he sometimes draws letters with his finger on the palm of his hand.
Ebert had surgery to remove his cancerous thyroid in 2002. He had surgery on his salivary glands in 2003 and on his jaw in 2006. Complications in 2006 led to more surgery and months of recuperation. He lost his ability to speak.
When asked about another operation to restore his voice, Ebert shakes his head.
Ebert has been a film critic for the Sun-Times since 1967. In 1975, he became the first journalist to win a Pulitzer Prize for movie criticism.
His thumb, pointing up or down, was the main logo of the televised movie review shows he co-hosted, first with Gene Siskel of the rival Chicago Tribune and — after Siskel's death in 1999 — with his Sun-Times colleague Richard Roeper.
The Esquire article describes a moment where Ebert begins to type on his computer. He presses a button and the speakers light up. "I've never said this before," the voice says, "but we were born to be Siskel and Ebert." The voice then says: "I just miss the guy so much."
Besides his film reviews, Ebert writes a blog and has published numerous books.