Roger Ebert Debuts New, Familiar Voice on 'Oprah'
By PopEater Staff Posted Mar 2nd 2010 04:42PM
"It still needs improvement, but at least it sounds like me," Ebert said through his computer as his wife, Chaz, choked up beside him. "In first grade, they said I talked too much. And now I still can."
"Uncanny," he added. "A good feeling."
Ebert, 67, "spoke" his first public words during a portion of 'The Oprah Winfrey Show' interview taped at his home, according to the Chicago Tribune. The rest of the interview was set at Oprah's Harpo studios, where Ebert used a more standard computerized voice.
Ebert prefaced the debut of "Roger Jr.," as he calls the customized voice, by saying, "It won't be me, but it'll cheer me up. You'll know it's a computer, but one that sounds like me." Chaz Ebert said she hadn't heard her husband speak since 2006.
"I actually think it's incredible, it's incredible that that's your voice," his wife said after Ebert's test drive of "Roger Jr."
In his column for the Chicago Sun-Times, Ebert wrote, "Yes, 'Roger Jr.' needs to be smoother in tone and steadier in pacing, but the little rascal is good," he wrote.
A particularly touching moment in the Winfrey interview occured when Ebert attempted to recall the last words he spoke on July 1, 2006, the day of his surgery for thyroid cancer. "I didn't realize they were going to be my last words. I probably spoke them to Chaz as they wheeled me out to the operating room," he said. "They were probably, 'I love you.' At least I hope those were my last words."
"On the other hand," Ebert joked, "they may have been, 'Good morning, doctor.'"
Watch His Oscar Picks in the New/Old Voice:
Ebert told Winfrey that he speaks in his dreams and a constant theme involves drinking root beers with his dad -- a poignant memory from his own childhood. Since his surgery, Ebert can't eat or drink.
The writer shared this anecdote with the audience: "My brother-in-law Johnny Hamill and his wife Eunice often came to visit at the rehabilitation institute. I told them that story. I told them I was totally fixated on root beer. I could smell it, taste it and feel it. I told them I had remembered that day with my father for the first time in 60 years."
"Johnny asked me if I had ever thought about it since. 'No,' I said, 'not even once.' Johnny said, 'It might be that when the Lord took away your drinking, he gave you back that memory.'"
Ebert was recently the subject of an in-depth Esquire interview; it featured a full-page portrait of his surgically altered face. Ebert told Oprah that he's uninterested in any more medical procedures: "No more surgery for me. I'm not going to talk, or eat or drink again. So the surgery would only be to patch my face back together. I don't want to go through that. This is the way I look. My life is happy and productive, so why have any more surgery? People ask if I mind Esquire running that photograph of me looking like this. I don't mind at all. Nobody looks perfect. We have to find peace with the way we look and get on with life."
On his own blog, Ebert explained the decision to share the intimate details of his post-cancer life with the world. "The idea of Esquire appealed to me. I did a bunch of interviews for them in the 1970s," he wrote.
He continued, "Chaz wondered if I really thought it was a good idea to invite Chris Jones or anyone else do to an interview that would involve being followed around and observed informally. I said I sensed he wasn't looking for a kill but just wanted to write a good article. ... What goes around, comes around. I've done interviews for years. This was no time to get sensitive and ask for photo approval, or an advance look at the piece. I'd been the goose, and now it was my turn to be the gander."
Ebert upheld the open door policy for Oprah's interview. Cameras were allowed into his home, where Chaz narrated a typical day in her husband's life. At lunchtime, she explained how Ebert eats with his body's new limitations. She said, "He has his meals in a gravity-drip bag suspended from this IV pole, and connected to a tube that goes through a port in his stomach."
Throughout the Esquire profile and Ebert's follow-up blog entry, Chaz was a constant presence, but never the primary voice. The Oprah interview gave a new glimpse into the Eberts' lasting relationship and Chaz's indelible role in her husband's recovery and reaffirmed sense of purpose. Oprah addressed Chaz directly:
"I would just like to say this to you, Chaz, as one woman to another. You are incredible. You make me proud to spell my name w-o-m-a-n ... Years ago, when everybody was saying it's done, its over, Chaz called me and said, 'I refuse to let him die.' She stood by him, and has taken care of him, and shown what true love is."
Chaz responded, "When I married Roger, I knew what an amazing man he was. He's smart, he's funny, he's very respectful of women, appreciative of other cultures. It's hard to find someone like him and I didn't want to lose him. I refused to give up."
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