Roger Ebert Returns to Television with Prosthetic Chin, Artificial Voice

Roger Ebert, ABC News/Associated Press
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Renowned movie critic Roger Ebert is returning to television with a new silicone prosthetic chin and an improved artificial voice. Mr. Ebert lost the lower part of his jaw and his voice box after complications from thyroid and salivary gland cancer in 2006.

Roger Ebert Suffered Papillary Thyroid Cancer Which Spread to Other Facial Features

Roger Ebert was originally diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer in 2002 and he had the malignant gland removed. However, the cancer spread to his salivary glands and then to his jaw. After surgery to remove the jaw bone and radiation to the site, Mr. Ebert suffered a burst of his carotid artery which hospitalized him. The tracheostomy he required led to the total loss of his voice.

Read: Film Critic Roger Ebert Speechless, Not Silenced

While for most patients, reconstructive surgery would be the best option, Ebert is hesitant about undergoing another procedure due to the previous complications. Two common procedures for facial reconstruction include silicone implants and a reconstruction of the jaw using bone from the fibula (calf bone).

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Ebert has been fitted with a silicone prosthetic chin which he will wear on the show. According to Dr. David Reisberg, a maxillofacial prosthodontist at the University of Illinois Medical Center, the prosthesis rests on Mr. Ebert’s shoulder blades, almost like a collar. The device is not intended to be worn every day because “The material itself doesn’t last forever. Skin oils can cause some breakdown and it tends to turn yellow.”

"We wanted to design a prosthesis that would elevate his lower jaw or chin area," said Reisberg. "It wasn't so much because he wanted to look better, but he felt that other people would be more comfortable dealing with him."

Read: California Woman Has Successful Larynx Transplant

In his Chicago Sun-Times blog, Ebert writes that he isn’t trying to fool anyone with the new appearance. And besides, “When people see the ‘Roger’s Office’ segment, they’ll notice my voice more than my appearance.”

This is because his laptop, which he uses to communicate with a special text-to-speech software has been updated using Ebert’s actual voice from archived footage from his previous television show “At the Movies”. Scotland-based CereProc says that there are realistic animated and emotional aspects to the voice.

“Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies” will be shown on Friday nights on PBS. Co-hosts are Christy Lemire of The Associated Press and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of Mubi.com.

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