Roger Ebert, Oprah
Cancer robbed Roger Ebert of the ability to speak four years ago. Now the famed film critic has found a new voice that sounds like his old one.
Using a new text-to-speech software by Scottish computer programming company CereProc, Ebert debuted his synthesized yet familiar voice on Tuesday's The Oprah Winfrey Show.
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The 67-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner, who had part of his jawbone removed in a battle with thyroid cancer, previously used standard computerized voices until CereProc sampled audio clips of Ebert's past film commentaries to fashion a semblance of his voice. The technology allows Ebert to type what he wants to say and let listeners hear him.
"How are you feeling?" Winfrey asked him.
"Terrific," a cheerful Ebert replied after typing in the response.
The computerized voice still needs improvement, Ebert said, but he is pleased that it at least sounds like him. "In first grade, they said I talk too much," he said. "And now I still can."
Ebert was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer in 2002 and underwent surgery to remove it. He had surgery again in 2003 on his salivary glands and in 2006 to remove additional cancerous tissue near his right jaw.
The last time Ebert's wife, Chaz, heard his voice was July 1, 2006, she said on the show, which also documented the couple's life at home.
Asked if he remembers the final words he spoke, Ebert said he does not because he didn't know at the time that they would be his last.
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"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!'"
Ebert is now cancer-free, and he said he won't have any reconstructive surgery to repair his face.
"This is the way I look, and my life is happy and productive, so why have any more surgery? ... Nobody looks perfect," he said. "We have to find peace with the way we look and get on with life."