Roger Ebert: Speechless, but far from silent

Even fans who initially knew Roger Ebert’s work as a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer eventually came to know him best by his voice. Not his literary voice, but his actual recorded voice, heard in the balcony he shared for nearly three decades on the genre-defining television program he pioneered with Gene Siskel. Whether he was passionately arguing the merits of a film he adored or brusquely dismissing his rival’s opinion with unveiled contempt, that voice, motored by an encyclopedic mind of movie history, educated millions of moviegoers. As reporter Chris Jones writes in a must-read profile in Esquire, the sound of that voice has now been silenced by cancer and numerous unsuccessful surgeries to restore his jaw. The picture from Esquire (left) says it all. Except that it doesn’t. Ebert still writes magnificently, on his online blog and for the Chicago Sun-Times. His life is complicated, but not as complicated as you might fear at first glance. He has his movies, his books, and his loved ones, who he communicates with through Twitter-like comments conveyed through machines and hand-written notes. Initially, part of me wished Esquire hadn’t included the unflinching portrait of Ebert. Not because I’m squeamish or some other superficial reason. But because it might have overshadowed the story, the man and his spirit. But Ebert’s own prose, quoted extensively by Jones, immediately puts that concern to rest. His talents with the pen are simply staggering, and he’s contributing to the world of cinema as he always has: as an advocate for film’s great promise with an eloquent voice we can all understand.

Do yourself a favor and read Jones’ Roger Ebert story. Then spend an entire weekend at the multiplex.

Photo Credit: Ethan Hill


Comments (135 total) Add your comment
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  • PeterBilt

    Holy sweet fancy moses. I wish i had not eaten

    • sunny

      please stop then, and breathing too

      • Nshi

        Does anyone else think he looks like Whistler’s Mother????

      • Roger Ebert

        I may look like Whistler’s Mother but I made your mother scream.

      • dwnicolo

        Great riposte Roger!

      • Nshi

        Yeah you did make her scream after she saw your face, (or lack thereof).

      • dwnicolo

        Great riposte Nshi!

    • whatever

      your and idiot and do what sunny said to do

      • jtatsiue

        Hey “whatever”, you meant, “you’re” an idiot. Ah, sweet irony.

    • Howard Zen

      Ebert barely pays attention to the movies he sees. His reviews are chock full of factual errors about the plots. Plus, he loved Paul Blart Mall Cop. It’s time for him to retire.

      • Alayna

        Completely agree. I am so tired of him criticizing movies on points that are not even accurate, demonstrating he has not even paid attention to the film. I think his reviews are perfunctory and misguided. All best wishes to him as a human being, but as a film critic? Not. A. Fan.

      • Anne

        I agree with you about Ebert and factual errors. But Paul Blart: Mall Cop was actually a good movie. Did you see it?

      • Jason

        Anne- Please tell me you’re joking. I haven’t seen Paul Blart cause I was busy watching my neighborhood glacier melt. That movie is awful and you should sue the theater and studio for the hour and a half of your life that was lost. Mr. Ebert was a decent critic, sure some people don’t agree with him cause you have your opinions and he has his.

      • Anne

        Wait, you haven’t seen that awful movie? That doesn’t make any sense. Nope, I’m not joking. I saw it, and I registered a real opinion. That’s usually how it works. I think Kevin James is really gifted, and he’s been in some mediocre films (“Hitch,” etc.), but he’s always the best part. And Paul Blart wasn’t a stinker. This was a wonderful article, by the way.

      • D’s Advocate

        Examples? (Not trying to be a jerk; just curious what factual errors you mean.)

      • John B.

        Saying “he liked *enter film I hate here*!!!” is not a valid criticism of someone’s writing. Everyone likes movies now and then that are widely disliked by others.

        Anyone who appreciates great writing can appreciate what Ebert has done over the years. No other working critics are as good at conveying precisely why they arrived at their opinions. More importantly, few so beautifully convey a love for movies as eloquently as Ebert. But trolls wouldn’t understand that.

      • Jason

        look here Anne, I’m not gonna waste 90 minutes in a theater watching an overweight mall security guard slide across the floor. I’ll take the advice of my unfortunate friends who were forced to go by their girls, if they say it sucked then it sucked. Also, Kevin James didn’t make Hitch the good movie it is. It was the two sexy ladies that made it amusing and charming.

        Here’s my OPINION, you’re taste in movies sucks!

      • chris swanberg

        You may not agree with his OPINIONS but he hasa right to them and he know more about movies and movie history and the art of movies than anyone alive.
        Just because he doesn’t like what you like doesn’t make him bad. and Paul Blart Mall Cop was not a bad movie. Some people hate Hurt Locker, I thought it was great. Shakespeare in Love beat Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture I didn’t agree, but that’s my opinion. And so what if Ebert doesn’t look so good, it’s not his fault, its CANCER! See how you would look if you had it.

      • thestray

        Move over Ebert, clearly this Jason character is the one that should be the movie critic. I can just imagine him now… “I didn’t see it, but my friends said it sucked, so it must suck. If you liked this movie I didn’t see then your taste sucks. That’s my opinion. Stay tuned for other reviews of movies based on other people’s opinions of movies I haven’t seen.”

    • paige

      Heres hoping the photo made you choke on whatever it was you were eating

      • Bella

        Jen, she was replying to the idiot PeterBilt at the very top of the comments who said he wished he hadn’t eaten. You should be disgusted by that morons comments, not Paige.

      • pnilz

        It wasn’t the photo that made me choke, it was what i was eating. Your rancid snatch. Ever had thyroid cancer by the way? My wife did, and I bet she’s still a thousand times hotter than you…

    • Edmonton Girl

      The man has tremendous courage. You – not so much.

      • Jen

        Paige—Are you freaking serious? The man has survived cancer and multiple surgeries. Do you have any compassion. I’m disgusted by you!

    • Donna

      Anyone who criticizes this gentleman’s appearance is woefully immature. If you live long enough, life has a way of throwing at least one serious challenge your way. And it’s always something that forces you to rethink what you’ve said about other people. You may end up with a disfiguring illness, or it may be someone you love… a spouse, child, parent. And without warning, you’ll find yourself on the wrong end of the problem. What will you do then?

      • Andey

        Thank you.

      • Tammy

        Thank you Donna. I agree with you 100%. You reap what you sowe. All of you may want to thank about that the next you want to be ugly.

      • Digna

        How dare anyone criticize Roger’s appearance!!?!?!? His strength and perseverance is an example to us all. Cancer is horrible and he is lucky to be alive and still active. Anyone who criticizes him is looking to empower their own insecurities and they should pray that they don’t get a worse lot in life. Roger, you are an icon and those of us who love you empathize with your plight and are so happy you have not given up.

        How dare anyone criticize Roger’s appearance!!?!?!? His strength and perseverance is an example to us all. Cancer is horrible and he is lucky to be alive and still active. Anyone who criticizes him is looking to empower their own insecurities and they should pray that they don’t get a worse lot in life. Roger, you are an icon and those of us who love you empathize with your plight and are so happy you have not given up. Keep writing, keep reviewing, we will keep reading and enjoying your words.

        Remember all you ignorant people criticizing someone’s appearance or disability, what goes around comes around and you better hope and pray someone close to you or even YOU do not suffer a worse lot in life. This shows your own insecurities and those of you who say nasty things like that have your own issues.

  • Sacha67

    I read it last night. Remarkable piece of writing. And it’s wonderful to see that nothing had dampened Ebert’s passion or talent as a cinephile and writer.

  • Tim

    Is that a picture of Lady Gaga?

    • Men.


      • Tammy

        look who is calling some stupid.

    • whatever

      in your attempt to be funny, you have showed how big of an idiot you truly are.

    • Jess

      I agree – if you think you were being funny, then you’re a jacka*s. If you actually meant that serious, then you’re an idiot.

    • Tom Strong

      Roger Ebert said Knowing was one of the greatest Sci Fi films of all time. If anyone thinks he’s a good critic, you’re as loopy as him.

      • John B.

        come back when your arguments have more gusto than a childish playground insult. If this is all you have to say, you don’t deserve to be taken seriously.

      • chris s

        @ Tom (I think I’m )Strong-Knowing was avery good movie. Perhaps with some maturity, wisdom and maybe further schooling beyond grade shool, you might actually understand . Maybe.

      • ScreenwriterHank

        Knowing was actually filled with religious ovbertones and scientific FACT. Of course i dont think it’s the greatest sci-fi film, but I thought it was very underrated. Hey, it’s his opinion.

    • bryan

      have some compasion… im from chicago now living in new york. i grew up on gene and roger, they where a great team…. gene was taken to soon, and roger is fighting this with dignity….

  • daveed

    I recommend listening to Ebert’s outstanding commentary track on Citizen Kane. We’re fortunate to have this record of his erudition about and passion for this film.

    • Liz

      one hundred percent agree. it’s brilliant. i am going to listen to it tonight.

  • Winona

    Beautiful article, and I’m very glad that Ebert is still around to share his love of movies with the world.

    PeterBilt, get some compassion. I think it’s on sale at Target this week.

    • Nshi


  • Luddite

    Such a shame – Mr. Ebert spoke at my college my freshman year. I went completely on a whim but wound up enjoying myself enormously.

  • Madd

    I still read his reviews. They’re actually well-written and insightful, unlike most reviews today that just say “this movie was bad, but that actor/actress is so lovable” or what not.

  • austin

    You people are very vicious. I have great respect for Roger Ebert, although I have to say that while flipping through ESQUIRE I encoutered this and was very shocked. I am gla though that he can still speak with his vibrant movie reviews.

    • Ebert Fan

      I think using the term “you people” is also a vice.

      • Kat

        Look up the meaning of the word “vice”.

  • CE

    While I rarely agree with his assessments of films (we just don’t have the same taste), I respect his analysis and applaud his spirit under very difficult circumstances.

    I also appreciate two things: 1. while it is shocking to see his changed appearance, I appreciate him being willing to be so extensively photographed so that we can see the man who is still there behind those same eyes. 2. I am glad that he is still able to do what he does best, communicate with the world through his writing. It’s good that he is still watching and critiquing movies… even though I still don’t agree with his reviews. :)

  • Yes

    One thing I found interesting from the article is that he is having a company re-create his voice so that he doesn’t have a generic voice to communicate through his computer like Stephen Hawking. They are using his old tv shows,etc to make it. Technology is amazing.

  • Melinda65

    His face has changed, but it’s not horribly disfigured. I wouldn’t call it disturbing, just sad for him that he has lost so much.

    I grew up watching S&E, and was sad when Gene died. The article was wonderful, and it’s good to know that Ebert is still enjoying and critiquing movies.

  • Flyer

    I really appreciate that Ebert still misses Siskel. They were a STERLING team, and I loved listening to them talk about the movies each week.

  • anon

    Wonderful article by Mr. Jones in Esquire. I’m really happy that Mr. Ebert has chosen to keep communicating with us. His blog is also well-worth reading. Some would have bent to the breaking point under these physical burdens. (BTW, he’s not the only person to have endured the terrible physical consequences of head and neck cancers. Many folks (for example, former smokers) have had these kinds of drastic surgical procedures, but have been able to be put back together. Mr. Ebert was unlucky enough to have had those restorative procedures fail to work.)

  • paige

    this article broke my heart when i read it today. I still continue to read Eberts reviews after many years. I respect this man even though our views differ movie to movie. I will be greatly sad when he passes but I take comfort in knowing that he wont be.

  • Kate

    This man is such an incredible writer and I have always been a fan. But what’s staggering and (ironically) beautiful about the Esquire cover is that he is showing us the face of illness, a face we do not see very often in mainstream media. Similar to Michael J. Fox, really. And as the daughter of a woman with a disfiguring disease, I’m strangely comforted by the image. Our bodies suffer, age, and debilitate, but the spirit endures.

    • paige

      very true kate

    • Man-Child

      Thank you, Kate.

    • Taylor

      People tend to forget that when we are in the grave, and decaying, we are all the same, the body is not pretty. Bodies are just vessels of the people we are, and pity the people that only see the superifical looking ones. They lose so much in life. Life should be spent enjoying and making life better, not worrying about looks that will not matter eventually.

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