Roger Ebert: Cancer Has Returned, Taking ‘A Leave Of Presence.’

Mark Deming
Movie Talk

The life of America's best-known film critic is proving to be as dramatic as any movie he could write about.

In a post on his blog published Tuesday evening, Roger Ebert revealed that his long battle with cancer has taken a new turn: what was believed to be a "painful fracture" in his leg that prevented him from walking has now been diagnosed as cancer, and Ebert will be reducing his workload as a critic to focus on treatment.

In the blog post, Ebert talked about his new health issues, and described the slowdown in his review schedule as "a leave of presence."

"What in the world is a leave of presence?" Ebert writes. "It means I am not going away. My intent is to continue to write selected reviews but to leave the rest to a talented team of writers handpicked and greatly admired by me. What's more, I'll be able at last to do what I've always fantasized about doing: reviewing only the movies I want to review."

Ebert went on to write, "The 'painful fracture' that made it difficult for me to walk has recently been revealed to be a cancer. It is being treated with radiation, which has made it impossible for me to attend as many movies as I used to. I have been watching more of them on screener copies that the studios have been kind enough to send to me. My friend and colleague Richard Roeper and other critics have stepped up and kept the newspaper and website current with reviews of all the major releases. So we have and will continue to go on."

Ebert's history with cancer has been long and eventful. The award-winning critic was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2002, and a year later he was discovered to have a tumor in his salivary glands. In 2006, the spread of the disease led to surgery to remove his lower jaw. While Ebert had maintained a busy schedule as a writer despite his health, in December 2012 he was hospitalized after fracturing a hip, and in a post on Facebook confessed he was "not in the best of shape."

While Ebert will be reviewing fewer movies in deference to his treatment, he's still handling a workload that would challenge healthier individuals. In addition to reviewing film, Ebert writes on a variety of subjects for his popular blog and distributes an on-line newsletter to subscribers. Ebert's website, which features an archive of his reviews, has recently been redesigned, and Ebert promised an expansion that will include the work of other critics. The annual film festival he hosts at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign will continue, with this year's event opening April 17. He'll be launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund production of new episodes of his television show "At The Movies." And documentary filmmaker Steve James is working with Martin Scorsese on a movie about Ebert's life.