When Ebert shows his face on TV tonight after more than four years off-air, he’ll attempt to look like he did, well, four years ago.
A 2006 surgery to eradicate thyroid cancer left him without part of his jaw, but Roger Ebert was determined not to let his altered appearance keep him out of the spotlight. And now he’s turning the cameras back on, more confident thanks to the Chicago doctor who’s constructed a prosthetic silicone chin and neck for him.
“That’s not to fool anyone, because my appearance is widely known,” the 68-year-old Ebert wrote Wednesday on his Chicago Sun-Times blog. After all, his famed Esquire photo has been viewed across the world. But it will make him feel more comfortable on national television, and “will be a pleasant reminder of the person I was for 64 years,” he wrote.
(More on TIME.com: See Roger Ebert’s blog as part of the Best Blogs of 2010.)
The chin construction was a two-year process, spearheaded by craniofacial professor Dr. David Reisberg of the University of Illinois at Chicago. The prosthesis fits over his neck and chin where his jawbone was removed, colored to match his skin. He doesn’t plan to wear it full-time, only wearing it on the show when he’s seen sitting in his office.
(More on TIME.com: See stunning portraits of 2010’s hottest cultural stars.)
The other unfortunate side effect of Ebert’s jaw removal was the loss of his voice. He has a computer program that will allow him to speak, but as such, he will take a backseat role in his new show. “Ebert Presents at the Movies” will feature Associated Press critic Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of mubi.com sitting in those classic red movie theater seats, offering their takes on this week’s flicks.
But even for a quick glimpse of the new Ebert, you can bet NewsFeed will be tuning in.