Just a few days ago I was telling my eight year-old son about Roger Ebert, and how there’s this legendary film critic who lost his ability to speak but who is able to speak using his own voice thanks to technology. (You can hear Ebert’s new computer voice, made using his own voice from old recordings of his show with the late Gene Siskel, at around 7:20 into his TED talk video here. He says his computer voice is still being worked on and he prefers the Apple “Adam” voice which comes bundled with the OS.) Ebert’s story is an inspiration to so many of us, but he probably doesn’t want people to see him that way, he just keeps doing the job he loves and helping us make decisions about which movies to see. Sadly, Ebert recently announced that his cancer has returned. (He was cancer free as of 2010, after losing part of his jaw and voice to thyroid cancer.) He writes that he’ll continue to work but it will be remotely and that he’ll cut back his schedule. Ebert, 70, is taking a “leave of presence.”
Typically, I write over 200 reviews a year for the Sun-Times that are carried by Universal Press Syndicate in some 200 newspapers. Last year, I wrote the most of my career, including 306 movie reviews, a blog post or two a week, and assorted other articles. I must slow down now, which is why I’m taking what I like to call “a leave of presence.”
What in the world is a leave of presence? It means I am not going away. My intent is to continue to write selected reviews but to leave the rest to a talented team of writers handpicked and greatly admired by me. What’s more, I’ll be able at last to do what I’ve always fantasized about doing: reviewing only the movies I want to review.
At the same time, I am re-launching the new and improved Rogerebert.com and taking ownership of the site under a separate entity, Ebert Digital, run by me, my beloved wife, Chaz, and our brilliant friend, Josh Golden of Table XI. Stepping away from the day-to-day grind will enable me to continue as a film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, and roll out other projects under the Ebert brand in the coming year.
The immediate reason for my “leave of presence” is my health. The “painful fracture” that made it difficult for me to walk has recently been revealed to be a cancer. It is being treated with radiation, which has made it impossible for me to attend as many movies as I used to. I have been watching more of them on screener copies that the studios have been kind enough to send to me. My friend and colleague Richard Roeper and other critics have stepped up and kept the newspaper and website current with reviews of all the major releases. So we have and will continue to go on.
At this point in my life, in addition to writing about movies, I may write about what it’s like to cope with health challenges and the limitations they can force upon you. It really stinks that the cancer has returned and that I have spent too many days in the hospital. So on bad days I may write about the vulnerability that accompanies illness. On good days, I may wax ecstatic about a movie so good it transports me beyond illness.
I’m glad he’ll still be writing, he has such talent, and I hope that he beats cancer again soon. He’s an incredible man with so much insight and wit. So many of us are hoping that he’ll continue to write for years to come. I’m thinking positive thoughts for him and his devoted wife, Chaz.
Roger Ebert and his wife Chaz are shown in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Credit: WENN.com and PCNPhotos