Roger Ebert is asked how he's doing today. "Terrific," he says.
The famed Sun-Times film critic is talking with Oprah using a special type-to-speech computer system. He's discussing his eight-year battle with cancer that took his lower jaw and eventually robbed him of, as Oprah said, "that voice we know and love."
Ebert and his wife, Chaz, came onto the set and sat with Oprah after a segment showing his life at home, his "eating" regimen (dinner from a gravity-fed IV bottle), and his still-rigorous schedule of hitting the screening room for two to four movies a day. (We also saw him running errands that included "meeting with television executives to talk about the possibility of a new show." To which we say: ???!!!)
He's got his laptop in his lap, and he types "terrific." Here's the first exchange:
Ebert then tells a story about how he still talks in his dreams -- and he still enjoys root beer. After losing his ability to eat and drink, he says he was taunted by a boyhood memory of going to the A&W with his father and savoring a root beer. His brother-in-law, he says, suggested that God gave him that memory back as comfort after taking that pleasure form him.
Oprah then announced that Ebert is, as only she could it, "CAN-CER FUH-REE-EEEEEEE!"
We then see Ebert and Chaz tinkering with a new technology from CereProc, a Scottish company, that has sampled dozens of syllables from Ebert's old TV shows to create a synthesized voice for him -- his own voice. (Hear an interview about it here.) Ebert types in a few sentences, and we hear his own voice, slightly synthesized and rough around the edges, reading them back. The lower portion of his face naturally sags now, showing almost constant astonishment, but we can see the real amazement shining in his wide eyes.
"It's uncanny," he says. "It's a good feeling."
Chaz says the last time she heard his actual voice was July 1, 2006.
Then Oprah gives a shout-out to Chaz: "I would like to say, from one woman to another, you are incredible! You make me proud to spell my name w-o-m-a-n. This woman refused to let him die. She refused to let him die. Years ago ... she called me and said, 'I refuse to let him die.' She stood by him and has been with him and has taken care of him, and has shown what true love is."
Ebert says he's done with surgeries, that he has no desire to go through complicated rpcoesses to reconstruct his face. "Nobody looks perfect," he says. "This is the way I look, and my life is happy and productive."
He then, of course, gave us his annual Oscar predictions!
It was a loving gesture and an inspiring story with two friends who go way back.