TODAY

TODAY   |  September 14, 2011

Movie critic Ebert reflects on ‘Life Itself’

Roger Ebert, who has published a new memoir “Life Itself,” sits down with TODAY’s Natalie Morales to talk about his resilience in the face of devastating thyroid cancer.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> a personal look at the life of one of the best-known film critics of our time. roger ebert is out with a new autobiography and natalie sat down with him recently.

>> good morning to you, matt. roger ebert 's battle with thyroid cancer left him without his jaw and the ability to speak and eat. but he has not lost his voice as america's most beloved and prominent film critic and now blogger. in fact he's busier than ever with a new memoir called "life itself."

>> at that moment i was thinking i don't like it.

>> they were the famed duo that gave us the trademarked, thumb's up or thumb's down at "at the movies."

>> initially, roger ebert and gene siskel were film critics . they were stars, their routine became legendary.

>> we have to review the character on the screen, gene, not your theories about what these guys are like.

>> but it came to a saddened when gene siskel died of cancer in 1999 . three years later, ebert was diagnosed with thyroid and salivary gland cancer. the disease took his lower jaw and his ability to speak, eat and drink.

>> top on my list is " citizen cane ." now he speaks through alex, his computer-generated voice. we sat down to talk about his new memoir, "life itself."

>> you did not know at the time that you had thyroid cancer , that you would never be able to speak again. as you began to realize that, what went through your mind?

>> there was never a time when anyone told me i would never speak again. naturally, i felt awful. but i had to accept reality.

>> a reality that included a new voice. and when ebert blogs, over 100 million people are reading. no surprise, last year, he was awarded a webby for person of the year.

>> the conversations that you have with your readers online, writing your blogs, how much is that like sitting down at the dinner table with you, roger ebert ?

>> with facebook, twitter and the comments on my blog, i feel i'm involved in an actual conversation with me, the social media really are social.

>> but his bluntness online took some heat this summer, after "jackass" star, ryan dunn 's deadly crash. dunn had posted this photo of himself drinking before the accident. ebert tweeted -- friends don't let jackasses drink and drive. he later explained in his blog, i was probably too quick to tweet. but recently told us, the tweet was the truth. for ebert , honesty is the best policy. even when it's about his own appearance.

>> you say the best thing that happened to you was when they showed a full-page photo of what you look like now in "esquire" magazine. why is that?

>> well, this is what i look like, so there's no purpose in hiding it. what you see is what you get.

>> your memories growing up are so descriptive about having root beers and frosty mugs with your father.

>> i find that when i am actually writing, memories appear in my mind.

>> vivid childhood memories , he writes i was born inside the movie of my life. he describes a good life. eating steakburgers at the steak and shake and chuckles candies at the movies. a childhood as american as a normal rockwell painting.

>> i was always extroverted. now i am forced to live more within my mind.

>> a beautiful day .

>> ebert credits his wife of 20 years for encouraging him to keep going. he writes, she was like a wind pushing me back from the grave.

>> chaz is a force of nature . when she decides on something, her determination is awesome. she knew i could still work as a film critic and she was right. she has done a great deal to make that possible.

>> ebert still travels to film festivals , attends at least five screenings a week, and with his wife, chaz, produces " ebert presents at the movies."

>> gene siskel , who you spent 23 years with, you two had a little bit of that love/hate relationship.

>> it's thiler week on " siskel and ebert week at the movies."

>> you said if you had a sitcom it would be called "best enemies." he really was like a brother to you. if he were alive today, what woe say to you now?

>> he would have been wholehearted in my corner through the troubles. although as a way of life we shared a deep understanding of one another. he would also have continued to make jokes about me. well, at least you don't need a bookmark any more to find your chin.

>> well, we saw roger walking in and they said, one of everything to go.

>> you once asked your doctor to put coca-cola through your g-tube. why?

>> i still have cokes once in a while . i like a caffeine.

>> these guys, right? this is eventage.

>> while ebert may be robbed of his ability to eat and drink, he still enjoys some guilty pleasures. two thumbs up. there's a beautiful passage in the book, really talks about how roger looks at life and ha he's been through. can you read that for me?

>> we must try to contribute joy to the world . that is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. we must try. i didn't always know this, and i'm happy i lived long enough to find it out.

>> i feel i'm lucky that i can still do what i love, and be of some use to people. it's a waste of time feeling sorry for yourself. because it doesn't change anything or help anything. you just have to keep on keeping on.

>> and matt, one thing that roger ebert told me is that a lot of people say he's courageous for continuing to do and be busier than ever. but in fact, he says, that's not the case. because he continues to be the same person. he's just doing what he always did. don't call him courageous.

>> a remarkable guy.

>> he really is. so vibrant.