March 2, 2010 — -- World famous film critic Roger Ebert, unable to speak, drink or eat due to complications from thyroid cancer, cheerfully told Oprah Winfrey today that "my life is happy."
Appearing on the program, Ebert said he was not embarrassed by his appearance. Countless surgeries left him without a jaw and the inability to close his mouth.
Even so, Ebert says he won't have anymore surgeries to correct his facial deformities.
"That's right, no more surgery for me," said Ebert. "I'm not going to talk or eat or drink again so the surgery would be to patch my face back together, and I don't want to go through that."
"This is the way I look and my life is happy and productive so why have any more surgery," he said.
"Nobody looks perfect, we have to find peace with the way we look and get on with life."
In a journal entry read by Chaz, his wife of 18 years, Ebert maintains his optimism despite his harrowing battle with cancer.
"I believe at the end of it all, if we have done something to make others a little happier and ourselves a little happier that is about the best we can do," wrote Ebert, moving his wife to tears as she read. "To make others less happy is a crime, to make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts."
"We should try to contribute joy to our world. That is true. No matter what our health circumstances are we should try," he said. "I didn't always know this, but I'm happy I lived long enough to find out."
Ebert told Winfrey that after eight years of cancer and the last four years without a voice or the ability to eat or drink, he is now cancer-free and feeling "terrific."
Asked by Winfrey if he remembers the last words he spoke out loud, Ebert says he does not.
"No, I don't because I didn't realize at the time that they were going to be my last words," said Ebert, through his computer. "I probably spoke them to Chaz as they wheeled me to the operating room and they were probably 'I love you.'"
"At least I hope those were my last words," he said, smiling. "They could have been 'good morning, doctor.'"
Ebert Has Vivid Memories of Root Beer and Other Treats
Ebert communicates through sign language and also through computer software that acts as his voice. Ebert will type in phrases he wants to speak and a generic computerized voice will read them aloud.
Chaz has stood by her husband's side throughout his tortuous battle with cancer. And while Chaz and Ebert do most things together -- they screen as many as four movies a day -- one thing they don't do together is eat.
"It seems kind of cruel, because he can no longer eat," Chaz told Winfrey in a tour of the the Chicago home she shares with Ebert.
Ebert eats four times a day through a feeding tube that connects to a port in his stomach.
But he has vivid memories of some of his favorite treats. Recurring dreams remind Ebert of his childhood love for A&W root beer that he used to get with his father, Ebert told Winfrey.
Chaz, speaking on behalf of Ebert, said that sometimes he asks her to eat the food he misses the most so that he can live vicariously through her. She also said that he misses the camaraderie of sharing a meal with someone as much as he misses the actual food and drink.
Having reviewed more than 10,000 movies during his career, Ebert offered his 2010 Academy Award picks, predicing that Mo'Nique will win best supporting actress for her role in "Precious," and that Sandra Bullock will win best actress for "The Blind Side," calling her performance in the film a "dazzling comeback."
Jeff Bridges was Ebert's pick for best actor and he predicts Kathryn Bigelow will take home the golden statue for "The Hurt Locker" and for best director.
Roger Ebert Hopes Uses New Software That Uses His Own Voice to Speak
Ebert has been working with a Scotish technology firm to develop software that will use his own voice -- and not the more robotic, computerized one -- to communicate. Drawing on the hours of television interviews and reviews he's done, Ebert's responses will be crafted from words he's actually spoken in the past.
Demonstrating the new device for his wife, Ebert was impressed with the authenticity of the voice.
"It's uncanny," said Ebert. "A good feeling."
Chaz, moved to tears at the sound of her husband's voice for the first time since July 1, 2006, described the device as "incredible."
Unable to tally just how many surgeries she's seen Ebert endure, Chaz spoke candidly about her determination to prevent her husband from succumbing to the cancer.
"When I married Roger, I knew what an amazing man he was," said Chaz. "He is smart, he's funny, he's 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 just refused to give up."