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The Author Speaks

Interview With Roger Ebert, Author of 'Life Itself: A Memoir'

Movie critic reflects on film, Gene Siskel, retirement

Roger Ebert can no longer talk, eat or drink.

For a sociable film critic — and one who was a television mainstay for four decades — that fate could have been murder. But judging by the energy in his body language and the way his eyes shine when he's in front of a crowd, you'd never know the depth of the physical challenges the esteemed film critic has endured since being diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2005.

See also: Excerpt from Life Itself: A Memoir.

Interview with Roger Ebert author of

Roger Ebert. — Photo by Ethan Hill/Getty Images

Surgery to remove the cancer took part of his lower jaw, and he underwent multiple operations to try to restore both his face and his ability to function. Those surgeries weren't as successful as he and the surgeons had hoped, and now Ebert has to take in nutrition through a feeding tube several times a day. No matter. Cancer-free, Ebert, 69, goes about life a purposeful, passionate man.

As he writes in his new book, Life Itself: A Memoir, "I'm happy I don't look worse. I made a simple decision to just get on with life. I will look the way I look, and express myself in print, and I will be content."

His book takes readers on a colorful trip from his growing-up years in Urbana, Ill., to his newspaper days in Chicago as a successful journalist, to his love of film, his fortuitous pairing-up with Gene Siskel for TV, with whom he spent 23 years cohosting Sneak Previews, At the Movies and Siskel & Ebert, and his remarkable career as an author beyond that. He's the only film critic with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and today he's managing editor and reviewer for the weekly program Ebert Presents at the Movies. His website receives over 100 million visits a year.

Ebert is forthright and vivid in his written speech — as in his articles and books. The AARP Bulletin spoke to him by email to ask about his thoughts on life, work, retirement, memory and more.

Q. You and your wife, Chaz, often take the stage together. She reads your words as you manipulate the computer keyboard. As easy as it looks, it must have been challenging to create this fusion of life and work.

A. We see things in much the same way, and we've been together for more than 20 years. And now that I have these [physical] troubles, Chaz has been there by my side, seen me through them and understands them. She has a wonderful stage presence and a lovely reading voice, and when I was no longer able to emcee Ebertfest, my film festival, she stepped in seamlessly. We've been going to festivals and movies together all of that time, so she understands that world.

Q. In your book, you say that when you look at Chaz, you see her for who she is — you don't see her "blackness." Explain.

A. We miss a lot when we judge a book by its cover. I have found in recent years that the Internet has a way of short-stopping prejudices. I know people online who no one suspects are elderly. Through my blog, I've also found uncommonly intelligent writers who were very young.

Q. What does this say about a society that often marginalizes people based on appearance, age or race?

A. It says that most people do and always have judged by appearances. That's a fact. I wish I knew how to fix it. With every word I write, I try to signal that although I am 69 and incapable of speaking, here inside me resides all the younger people I ever have been in my life. And that is a benefit in my writing.

Next: Roger Ebert on being paired with Gene Siskel. >>

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