Roger Ebert’s wife on his illness & how people try to get her down

25th Film Independent Spirit Awards - Arrivals
Famed film critic Roger Ebert, 67, lost his ability to speak four years ago during one of his many surgeries for thyroid cancer. He’s now cancer free and is still reviewing up to four movies a day as part of his long career at the Chicago Sun Times. Ebert cannot eat or drink after losing the bottom of his mouth, but he still manages his daily schedule with the help of his devoted wife of 18 years, Chaz.

Last month, Chaz and Roger were profiled on Oprah as part of her pre-Oscar special and I was so touched by both their relationship and their approach to his disability. They didn’t seem overly optimistic to me, but just grateful for the life they shared together and the fact that Ebert could still communicate so effectively through a keyboard. Chaz said she never gave up hope that Roger would pull through his illness, and explained her deep love for him. “When I married Roger, I knew what an amazing man he was. He is smart, he’s funny, he is very respectful of women, he’s 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.”

In a recent interview, Chaz revealed that people were surprised she responded so strongly and positively in the face of her husband’s medical problems, and that some even tried to pull her down. She wasn’t having it, though, and says that hope is strategy that works. It seems to have worked very well for her and Roger:

Many people — including Roger himself and Oprah — have credited you with saving his life and giving him the will to keep fighting. How much of that is conscious decision on your part, or is it just instinct?
Part of it is instinct and the way I am, and I try to think about this. For instance, I come from a very large family. I have four brothers and four sisters, so if you can imagine, my mom and dad had many situations that were difficult. But the thing our family always did, my mother would say, “Don’t worry, everything’s going to be OK.” She and my dad would roll up their sleeves, mobilize the troops and no matter how bad the situation, you’d think things are going to turn out OK.

Secondly, and I know Roger doesn’t like me telling people this, I just had a very deeply spiritual — almost psychic feeling — that it was not his time to go; that he was going to be around for other things, and that I had to fight for him to be here.

Why doesn’t he like you saying that?
If you talk about things that are deeply spiritual — almost in a metaphysical sense — he gets a little uncomfortable because he’s more of a Darwinian evolutionist, and sometimes I believe in life that if we don’t have all the answers, it’s still a gut instinct that the universe gives us.

If it’s at all possible to think in this sense, what’s the biggest positive to have come out of Roger’s illness?
Yes, there is a positive. The positive is we learned that we are much stronger than we thought we were. We learned that our relationship is so beautiful and so strong. We learned that people come through with support and encouragement when you need it. We learned that you can’t hide. You have to live your life in a joyful manner, no matter your health or your circumstances.

What advice can you give for to those who may be dealing with an illness in the family in regards to keeping a strong attitude during the toughest times?
I think my first piece of advice would be to pray for guidance, and not just in a religious sense. The second step would be to maintain your hope and faith that things will turn out OK, even if people tell you you are in denial. A few people told me when he was really sick and he didn’t look good, and I said, “I have this feeling things will be OK.” They said, “You’re in denial.” I said, “I may be, but hope is a strategy.” And number three, surround yourself with a support group of family and friends.

Next, go on the Internet and look up everything that you can about the illness. Everything you read on the Internet may not be true or accurate, but at least you get some sort of education that we didn’t have before the Internet. That was really essential to me.

Also, don’t be afraid to question the doctors. Sometimes, we think the doctors are the end-all. We had excellent doctors, and yet the situation Roger was in was a very unusual one. So sometimes they were guessing about things just like I was, and sometimes I had an idea of things where I said, “I won’t even bring this up because I don’t know as much as the doctors do.” In a situation like that, you have to question everything… you can’t say, “Oh, they’re too busy.” Ask as many questions as you think you need to ask.

What do you think the future holds for you and Roger?
We are very optimistic about the future. Each day is still fun, I’ll just say it like that. We’re working on putting together a new movie review show for him. As Roger said, instead of slowing him down, his illness is speeding him up. We’re going to try to take advantage of all the new media for the show, so that makes everything feel fresh and new.

Sometimes, I’m almost ashamed we feel so positive. People think you shouldn’t be so happy, because when you fall, it’s going to be that much more disappointing.. But you know what? We’ll take each day as it comes. That’s one of the reasons we were so attracted to each other, because we saw that the positive attitude in each other. It doesn’t mean we don’t have days when we’re very sad. If we could turn back the clock and have Roger regain his voice and beat cancer, we’d do it, of course. But since we can’t, we give what life has given us, and because it’s given us so much good, we can’t complain about the bad.

[From Popeater]

There’s much more at Popeater, including a funny anecdote about how Chaz convinced Ebert to use Twitter after he initially said it “was for twits.” She also discusses how they’ve been able to stay married for so long, and explains that their mutual interest in the world keeps them interested in each other. “We still feel like we are teenagers in high school, going through life together, having fun, learning about things and still curious about what’s going to happen tomorrow.” I was so impressed by this interview, and by Chaz’s wisdom and outlook. As much as she is lucky to have Roger, he is blessed to have her in his life. They both seem to realize that and to appreciate what they have together. Maybe in their case that’s reality and not just optimism.

25th Annual Film Independent Spirit Awards - Arrivals

Piaget at the 25th Film Independent Spirit Awards

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31 Responses to “Roger Ebert’s wife on his illness & how people try to get her down”

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  1. Minnie says:

    They are both lucky to have each other!

  2. stephiespoons says:

    A love story for our times.

  3. Tazina says:

    I still miss At the Movies where there was never a dull moment watching Siskel and Ebert dusting it up over their movie reviews. I am glad to hear he’s still working.

  4. DoMaJoReMc says:

    They are what TRUE LOVE is all about.

    There is no happy ending in love, because true love is never ending!

    God bless you, both!

  5. Lantana says:

    Will someone please tell me what a “blind” post is? I know it is not relevant to this article, but I’ve seen it mentioned several times on this site. I’m Googling away and not getting any relevant answer… And to comment on the post, I saw Roger on Oprah and was pretty much amazed at how he’s coping with his illness. Team Roger!

  6. ams1 says:

    “blinds” are just little stories that people tell about famous people, but without revealing who it is really about…and then people just guess who it could be. its really pointless lol but its fun

  7. Celebitchy says:

    I think Blind posts are just a way to post really unsubstantiated rumors, sometimes wild ones, without getting in trouble. We run them occasionally but I don’t put much stock in them.

  8. texasmom says:

    He’s a good egg. I used to run into him at a local video store back when I lived in Chicago!

  9. Joan says:

    Gosh, I didn’t realise how bad Roger was doing …. He definitely is lucky to have such a dedicated, loving wife. I wish them all the best.

  10. chunkstyle says:

    Oh man, such lovely thoughts! I was tearing up over here in the midst of my cold-hearted b****iness about lindsay’s crack tweets! I’m so glad he and his wife are in the world, they seem like amazing beautiful people. They help make up for the wastes of human skin out there.

  11. lucy2 says:

    I too didn’t realize how serious it was for him. I hope he continues to do well.
    I agree, that really is true love, and I’m glad they have each other. Situations like that often break people up, but in their case it seems like it’s made them stronger.

  12. JC126 says:

    They seem like a great couple.
    I miss hearing Roger Ebert’s voice – he is SO witty and smart.

  13. Maritza says:

    That is what I call real true love, they love each other no matter what.

  14. Lantana says:

    Thank you for answering my questions on blind posts. I am amazed that Roger Ebert is so willing to go public with his illness. I honestly cannot imagine what he has been through. God bless both he and his wife.

  15. GatsbyGal says:

    I respect the battle he’s been fighting, but I just recently lost a GREAT deal of respect for him when he made a blog post about how video games will NEVER ever be art.

  16. Wow says:

    Okay, I’ll add them to my list along with Roger and Mirka Federer as the only real celebs marriages that seem true. :-)

  17. Jo 'Mama' Besser says:

    She’s a class act, all the way.

  18. Big Mama says:

    Team Roger & Chaz! Love them!!!

  19. Nanea says:

    It’s so great for them that they have each other. My best wishes for them!

    I’m glad Roger continues to review movies.

  20. original kate says:

    what an inspirational couple – good for them. just goes to prove what my granny says about love: when you’ve got a good thing you don’t let it go when the road gets rocky – you hang on a little tighter.

  21. Sumodo1 says:

    Someday, they’ll make a movie about Chaz & Ebert!

  22. Aitch says:

    I have been a fan since Roger and Gene did “Sneak Previews” on PBS. Who else can say that?!
    Love ya Rog and Chaz!

  23. Me says:

    What an amazing woman. And man. I feel like I learned something when I read that.

  24. oceanblue says:

    @Aitch: I can! I was a kid when the show was on, watched it and loved them both.

    I admire Chaz so much. “Hope is a strategy” is going to be my new phrase.

  25. Dhavy says:

    True love that is so rare these days

    Reminds me of Christopher and Dana Reeve

  26. Bee says:

    What a wonderful lady, and wonderful couple. They are an inspiration to us all. After seeing the worst about humanity everyday on the news,it’s great to read about such exceptional people. I wish them all the best.

  27. daluraemoviegoer says:

    This couple are such a great inspiration to me.

    For those who want more of Ebert:

    I just love this article and every time I read it tears me up. His movie reviews are as sharp and insightful despite what he had to go through

  28. SallyJay says:

    Inspiring stuff…god bless them both!

  29. Aitch says:

    Nice Ocean Blue–glad to hear others have even heard of Sneak Previews!

  30. Sincerity says:

    The Ebert’s seem to know what a “real” marriage is all about. When things get tough, you don’t “punk out” and throw in the towel. You stay actively engaged in your spouse’s challenges and pray for the best outcome. Emotional and intellectual compatibility are also very important. It makes communicating and working as a unified team much easier.