Television

Roger Ebert debuts his new voice on 'Oprah'

Maureen Ryan
Chicago Tribune (MCT)

Four years ago, one of the most famous voices in the entertainment industry was silenced. On Tuesday's "Oprah Winfrey Show," film critic Roger Ebert's voice was finally heard again.

A high-tech program created by Scottish company CereProc used Ebert's DVD commentaries to create a synthetic version of his voice, which Ebert used for the first time on "Oprah" to "talk" via his computer.

Ebert, 68, has been battling cancer for eight years, and for the last few years, he hasn't been able to eat, drink or speak.

But he certainly hasn't lost the ability to communicate — far from it. Via his blog, Twitter and his prodigious review output for the Chicago Sun-Times, he has once again proved himself to be one of the most productive critics around. He's also one of the most beloved; when he walked out on Winfrey's stage, he got a standing ovation.

For the Tuesday interview, Ebert and his wife, Chaz, joined Winfrey in her Chicago studio, but the part of the interview in which he unveiled his new voice was shot in the couple's Chicago town house.

"It still needs improvement, but at least it sounds like me," Ebert's computer said when it "spoke." "In first grade, they said I talked too much. And now I still can."

As Ebert "talked" for the first time since July 1, 2006 (the date of the surgery that destroyed his ability to speak), Chaz wiped away tears.

"I actually think it's incredible; it's incredible that that's your voice," Chaz said. "Roger, what do you think?"

"Uncanny. A good feeling," he answered.

The new voice did sound a lot like the Ebert that TV audiences heard on his many movie review programs, including the various incarnations of the show he hosted with the late Chicago Tribune critic Gene Siskel. However, for much of the "Oprah" interview, Ebert used a more standard computer voice, which sounded a bit like Hal from "2001: A Space Odyssey."

Ebert said he couldn't recall his last words.

"I probably spoke them to Chaz as they wheeled me out to the operating room," he said. "They were probably, 'I love you.' At least I hope those were my last words. On the other hand, they may have been, 'Good morning, doctor.'" He said he often dreamed of frosty root beers shared with his father.

"In my dreams, I'm talking all the time," he said.

Ebert and Winfrey, who are old friends, discussed his day-to-day life since his cancer diagnosis, and the show chronicled a typical day for the Eberts, which involved three film screenings, a meeting about a possible TV project and a lot of writing for Roger.

These days, Ebert is cancer-free, and he has ruled out any future surgeries.

"This is the way I look, and my life is happy and productive, so why have any more surgery?" Ebert said, before moving on to this year's Oscar race.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.