Roger Ebert became a larger-than-life celebrity figure though his movie criticism (first to win a Pulitzer), his TV show(s), and finally, his cancer.
His memoir, “Life Itself,” is highly acclaimed, and was turned into a documentary that is now playing in selected theaters.
The movie was initially made to feature Ebert’s life and illness. But throughout the making of the film, Ebert’s health began to get worse, and he soon died.
He participated in the making of the film right up until his death. Both he and his wife Chaz gave the filmmaker intimate access to their lives.
What makes the movie so special, in addition to learning about Ebert’s career, are the stories of his battle with alcohol addiction and his cancer, treatment, and death.
I’ve never before seen a real film subject in such detail with his lower jaw removed, where his mouth is basically a flap of skin—it was that way for the last several years of his life. He could neither speak, nor eat or drink–ironic for a man known for his voracious appetites and weight.
The film shows him on two occasions being “suctioned,” where a reparatory tech uses a long probe to aspirate mucous from his windpipe. Again, I’ve never seen something so real and raw in a film. It’s unsparing. But it’s deeply moving. Throughout his illness, rather than becoming maudlin, Ebert continued writing, blogging and reviewing films all throughout his illness, right up until his death. No matter your opinion of him, his courage and perseverance in the face of serious illness and his impending death is something to behold.
This post by John H. Schumann, MD, FACP, originally appeared at GlassHospital. Dr. Schumann is a general internist. His blog, GlassHospital, seeks to bring transparency to medical practice and to improve the patient experience.