The Oprah Winfrey Show Finale

The Oprah Winfrey Show Finale

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The Oprah Winfrey Show
May 25, 2011

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On September 8, 1986, the first national episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show was broadcast into homes across America. Now, 25 years later, Oprah steps onto the stage for the last time to share her greatest lessons and hopes for her viewers.

“After deliberating for some time, we decided to do what we do best, and that is a show about and with everyday people. This show always allows people, hopefully, to understand the power they have to change their own lives. If there’s one thread running through each show we do, it is the message that you are not alone. Twenty-five years and I’m still saying thank you, America. Thank you so much. There are no words to match this moment. Every word I’ve ever spoken from this stage of The Oprah Show for 4,561 days of my life is what this moment is all about.

“When I came here, I was about to turn 30 years old. I didn’t have a vision or a lot of great expectations. Stedman talks about vision all the time, but I didn’t have one when I came here. I just wanted to do a good job and cause no harm. … That first day was a shock to me. There was no audience. There I am in my best Anne Klein II velour outfit, my guests were a few Chicago football players, New Year’s Day, 1984. … I needed people. I needed to have you to gauge how things were going during the show, if you were responding, if you were laughing, if you were tracking with me. So after that first show, we put up some folding chairs in the audience. We brought in the staff. Secretaries. Anybody we could find in the building and filled the first rows with staff people and the rest with people off the street that we bribed with doughnuts and coffee, and we’d say, ‘Come in.’

“Two years later, when we went national, I remember at the time, Roger King told me that one station manager said that he’d rather put a potato in a chair in his market than have a big black girl with a funny name. And in spite of that, from Memphis to Macon, from Pittsburgh to Pensacola, from New York to New Orleans, you all let me in.”

“The first week we went national, I remember I got a letter from a woman named Carrie in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Carrie said, ‘Oprah, watching you be yourself makes me want to be more of myself.’ That was and still remains one of the nicest things I ever heard. What Carrie felt is what I wanted for every single one of you. I wanted to encourage you to be more of yourself just as you all encouraged me, and you cheered me on and occasionally complained about my outfits, my big hair and earrings the size of napkins. Now I see you had every reason to.

“Soon after I started the show, something shifted for me. It really did. I started the show as a job and was very happy to get the job, but it was not long before I understood that there was something else going on here. More than just job satisfaction. Something in me connected with each of you in a way that allowed me to see myself in you and you in me. I became your surrogate—to ask the questions, deliver the answers, learn, grow, expand my thinking, challenge my beliefs and the way I looked at the world. I listened and grew, and I know you grew along with me.

“Sometimes I was the teacher, and more often, you taught me. It is no coincidence that I always wanted to be a teacher and I ended up in the world’s biggest classroom. And this, my friends, will be our last class from the stage.

“What I knew for sure from this experience with you is that we are all called. Everybody has a calling, and your real job in life is to figure out what that is and get about the business of doing it. Every time we have seen a person on this stage who is a success in their life, they spoke of the job, and they spoke of the juice that they receive from doing what they knew they were meant to be doing. We saw it in the volunteers who rocked abandoned babies in Atlanta. We saw it with those lovely pie ladies from Cape Cod making those delicious potpies. … We saw it every time Tina Turner, Celine, Bocelli or Lady Gaga lit up the stage with their passion. Because that is what a calling is. It lights you up and it lets you know that you are exactly where you’re supposed to be, doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. And that is what I want for all of you and hope that you will take from this show. To live from the heart of yourself. You have to make a living; I understand that. But you also have to know what sparks the light in you so that you, in your own way, can illuminate the world.”

“When I started, not even I imagined that this show would have the depth and the reach that you all have given it. It has been a privilege for me to speak to you here in this studio, in this country and in 150 countries around the world on this platform that is The Oprah Winfrey Show. You let me into your homes to talk to you every day. This is what you allowed me to do, and I thank you for that. But what I want you to know as this show ends: Each one of you has your own platform. Do not let the trappings here fool you. Mine is a stage in a studio, yours is wherever you are with your own reach, however small or however large that reach is. Maybe it’s 20 people, maybe it’s 30 people, 40 people, your family, your friends, your neighbors, your classmates, your classroom, your co-workers. Wherever you are, that is your platform, your stage, your circle of influence. That is your talk show, and that is where your power lies. In every way, in every day, you are showing people exactly who you are. You’re letting your life speak for you. And when you do that, you will receive in direct proportion to how you give in whatever platform you have.

“My great wish for all of you who have allowed me to honor my calling through this show is that you carry whatever you’re supposed to be doing, carry that forward and don’t waste any more time. Start embracing the life that is calling you and use your life to serve the world.”

“Time and time again, the theme that kept showing itself in our early years on this show was people making bad choices. I look back at those tapes, I can’t believe I did it. People were making bad choices and then blaming everybody but themselves for the state of their lives. We started to learn by watching others how self-destructive that really was.

“Here’s what I learned from all of that, besides not to do that anymore: Nobody but you is responsible for your life. It doesn’t matter what your mama did; it doesn’t matter what your daddy didn’t do. You are responsible for your life. … You are responsible for the energy that you create for yourself, and you’re responsible for the energy that you bring to others. One of the best examples of this was Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor who was on the show talking about the book My Stroke of Insight. She was a 37-year-old, Harvard-educated brain scientist who suffered a massive stroke in the left part of her brain. She couldn???t speak or remember her own mother, but when doctors and nurses walked into her room, she knew from the right brain who was on her side. She could feel their energy.

“Dr. Taylor sent me a sign that I have hanging in my makeup room. It says, ‘Please take responsibility for the energy you bring into this space.’ And I ask the same thing in my home and at my companies. Thank you, Dr. Taylor, for that simple but powerful lesson. All life is energy and we are transmitting it at every moment. We are all little beaming little signals like radio frequencies, and the world is responding in kind.

“Remember physics class? Did you pay attention to Newton’s third law of motion? Let me tell you, that thing is real. It says for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. That is the abiding law that I live by, articulated to perfection by Miss Celie in The Color Purple when she finally gets the courage to leave her abusive husband, Mister. … ‘Everything you done to me already done to you.’ It is the Golden Rule to the 10th power.”

“When I started this show, it was a revelation to all of us how much dysfunction there was in people’s lives. I grew up with Leave It to Beaver and Andy Griffith. I thought everybody’s family life was like that, even though I knew mine was not. Well this show, and our guests, began to paint a different picture and allowed us to drop the veil on all the pretense and do exactly what we envisioned in that first show: to let people know that you are not alone.

“One of the most poignant moments I remember was in one of the first shows we did about alcoholism. We moved in with a family for a week. The mother felt her husband had a drinking problem, and it was destroying the family. What moved me the most was this moment in that show where the mother’s being consoled by her 3-year-old daughter. That, to me, was the real picture of what alcoholism does to a family. And that was just the beginning. People started coming on this show saying things they couldn’t say to their own family members. Little by little, we started to release the shame.”

“What amazes me when I look back at the volume of 4,561 shows is not just that we did this, but the variety and the complexity of the things that we did. One day we’re LOLing with Chris Rock, and the next day we’re at Walter Reed spending time with soldiers who have lost their limbs. And the day after that, we’re sitting with an entire family of heroin addicts.

“I learned from the guests on this show, no need to feel superior to anybody. Because whether it’s heroin addiction or gambling addiction or shopping addiction or food addiction, work addiction, the root is all the same. The show has taught me there is a common thread that runs through all of our pain and all of our suffering, and that is unworthiness. Not feeling worthy enough to own the life you were created for. Even people who believe they deserve to be happy and have nice things often don’t feel worthy once they have them.

“There is a difference, you know, between thinking you deserve to be happy and knowing you are worthy of happiness. That never became clearer to me than this year in a moment I shared with Iyanla Vanzant, an expert who had been a regular on our show 12 years ago, and we were trying to develop a show for her, for her own show, and she left to do a show with somebody else and we hadn’t spoken since.

“What I got was we often block our own blessings because we don’t feel inherently good enough or smart enough or pretty enough or worthy enough. From Jacqui Saburido—her face literally melted by the flames ignited from a car accident with a drunk driver—to Monica George—remember her? The mother with a young daughter and a brand new baby who lost both her arms and both legs—the show has taught me you’re worthy because you are born and because you are here. Your being here, your being alive makes worthiness your birthright. You alone are enough.”

“I’ve talked to nearly 30,000 people on this show, and all 30,000 had one thing in common: They all wanted validation. If I could reach through this television and sit on your sofa or sit on a stool in your kitchen right now, I would tell you that every single person you will ever meet shares that common desire. They want to know: ‘Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?’

“Understanding that one principle, that everybody wants to be heard, has allowed me to hold the microphone for you all these years with the least amount of judgment. Now I can’t say I wasn’t judging some days. Some days, I had to judge just a little bit. But it’s helped me to stand and to try to do that with an open mind and to do it with an open heart. It has worked for this platform, and I guarantee you it will work for yours. Try it with your children, your husband, your wife, your boss, your friends. Validate them. ‘I see you. I hear you. And what you say matters to me.'”

“People often ask me, What is the secret of success of the show? How have we lasted 25 years? I nonjokingly say, ‘My team and Jesus.’ Because nothing but the hand of God has made this possible for me. … I know I’ve never been alone, and you haven’t either. And I know that that presence, that flow—some people call it grace—is working in my life at every single turn. And yours too, if you let it in. It’s closer than your breath, and it is yours for the asking.

“I have felt the presence of God my whole life. Even when I didn’t have a name for it, I could feel the voice bigger than myself speaking to me, and all of us have that same voice. Be still and know it. You can acknowledge it or not. You can worship it or not. You can praise it, you can ignore it or you can know it. Know it. It’s always there speaking to you and waiting for you to hear it in every move, in every decision. I wait and I listen. I’m still—I wait and listen for the guidance that’s greater than my meager mind.

“The only time I’ve ever made mistakes is when I didn’t listen. So what I know is, God is love and God is life, and your life is always speaking to you. First in whispers. … It’s subtle, those whispers. And if you don’t pay attention to the whispers, it gets louder and louder. It’s like getting thumped upside the head, like my grandmother used to do. … You don’t pay attention to that, it’s like getting a brick upside your head. You don’t pay attention to that, the whole brick wall falls down. That’s the pattern I’ve seen in my life, and it’s played out over and over again on this show.

“A couple weeks ago, we brought back Carolyn Thomas whose face was literally shot off by her boyfriend. You ask Carolyn now: ‘Were there whispers? Were there bricks before the disastrous bullet?’ What Carolyn would say to you? ‘Don’t wait for your face to get shot off before you hear your own life speaking to you.’

“What I’ve gleaned from this show: Whispers are always messages, and if you don’t hear the message, the message turns into a problem. And if you don’t handle the problem, the problem turns into a crisis. And if you don’t handle the crisis, disaster. Your life is speaking to you. What is it saying?”

“People ask, Do I have regrets? I have none, really, about this show. But the one thing I feel I was not able to bring enough attention to, although I tried in 217 shows, was the sexual seduction, molestation and rape of children, worse now with the Internet than it was 25 years ago when I first spoke publicly in November of 1986 of my own sexual abuse. Even though I was able to speak about it because I felt safe enough with you as an audience, I still hadn’t released the shame of it.

“It wasn’t until many years later on a show with child molesters, one of them shared how they calculate and artfully manipulate to seduce children, when I finally realized, like so many of you, it really wasn’t my fault.

“We had a lot of frank conversations on this show about child sexual abuse, and it opened a floodgate for millions of you all over the world, all of you claiming, with courage, the same thing: It happened to me too. And it’s continued for 25 years. One of the proudest moments in the history of The Oprah Show was when my friend Tyler Perry joined me on this stage and gave us his testimony of abuse and then was joined by 200 men.

“What a full-circle moment. I felt safe enough with you all 25 years ago. This season they felt safe enough with me. Thank you, Tyler, and every man who had the strength to stand up for the little boy inside of him.”

“You all have been a safe harbor for me for 25 years. It’s strange, I know, but you have been. And what I hope is that you all will be that safe harbor for somebody else—their safe place to fall. Do for them what you all are telling me the show has done for you. Connect. Embrace. Liberate. Love somebody. Just one person. And then spread that to two. And as many as you can. You’ll see the difference it makes.

“So, audience, I want to keep in touch. I want you to jot down my new email address:—easy to remember, huh? This is going to be my personal email account for all of you. When you get something in your in-box from me, it will be from me directly, and I’ll be reading as many of your emails as I can as I move to my next life on OWN. I want you to know that what you have to say matters to me. I understand the manifestation of grace and God, so I know that there are no coincidences. There are none. Only divine order here.

“I am truly amazed that I, who started out in rural Mississippi in 1954 when the vision for a black girl was limited to being either a maid or a teacher in a segregated school, could end up here. It is no coincidence that a lonely little girl who felt not a lot of love, even though my parents and grandparents did the best they could, it is no coincidence that I grew up to feel the genuine kindness, affection, trust and validation from millions of you all over the world. From you whose names I will never know, I learned what love is. You and this show have been the great love of my life.”

“Every single day I came down from my makeup room on our Harpo elevator, I would offer a prayer of gratitude for the delight and the privilege of doing this show. Gratitude is the single greatest treasure I will take with me from this experience. The opportunity to have done this work, to be embraced by all of you who watched, is one of the greatest honors any human being could have. And I thank each of you for allowing me to speak in such a way that, no matter what was happening in your life, you could see the best of your selves. For everything there is a season, we know, and our time together on this platform is coming to a close. In a few moments when the final credits roll, I see it not as an ending, but as an extraordinary beginning. One chapter closed. The next chapter beginning for all of us.

“I’ve been asked many times during this farewell season, ‘Is ending the show bittersweet?’ Well, I say all sweet. No bitter. And here is why: Many of us have been together for 25 years. We have hooted and hollered together, had our aha! moments, we ugly-cried together and we did our gratitude journals. So I thank you all for your support and your trust in me. I thank you for sharing this yellow brick road of blessings. I thank you for tuning in every day along with your mothers and your sisters and your daughters, your partners, gay and otherwise, your friends and all the husbands who got coaxed into watching Oprah. And I thank you for being as much of a sweet inspiration for me as I’ve tried to be for you.

“I won’t say goodbye. I’ll just say…until we meet again.”


O, The Oprah Magazine
May 10, 2011

Original Link

They’ve stood by each other through thick and thin, kids and cocker spaniels, haircuts and headlines. They’ve seen the world change and they’ve seen themselves change. And today Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King are sitting down to talk about what, for Oprah, is the biggest change in 25 years: the end — after more than 4,500 episodes — of The Oprah Winfrey Show. To understand how that will feel, you have to understand how it all began…

Gayle: I have a very clear memory of the moment, I guess it was about 16 or 17 years ago, when it hit me that you weren’t just hosting a talk show — that this thing you were creating was so much more. We were caught in a traffic jam in Racine, Wisconsin, because everyone was headed to the concert hall where you were speaking.

Oprah: Oh, I remember that. We pull up to the place, the cops are lined up in double rows, and you go, “What’s happening here? Who’s here? Who’s here?” And I go, “I am, you nitwit!” [Laughter]

Gayle: I just could not wrap my head around it. So, I’m wondering, was there a moment like that for you, where you just went, “Whoa, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore”?

Oprah: You know, the philosophy in television is that you visit the cities where you’re not doing so well in the ratings, to try to prop yourself up there. But I’ve always believed you should applaud the people who are already applauding you. So pretty early on we went to this little town in Texas, where you’d go down the street and every household that had a TV was watching the Oprah show. And we actually filled a stadium. There were people of all ages, races, every single possible demographic. People with their children on their shoulders. I think that’s when I first got it. And one of the most revelatory moments recently, where I really “got” got it, was in Australia. Doing the show there and getting the welcome we got was eye-opening, because I’m normally just here in my little Harpo village. I go from home to work to home to work to Los Angeles to Santa Barbara. And that’s my world.

Gayle: Yeah. You’re not really a hang-out kind of girl, going here and going there. Your life is very contained.

Oprah: The first few years when the staff was still less than 12 people, I used to hang out with them because we were doing live shows, and we’d be done by 10 A.M. We had four people in four chairs, and that was it. Those were the days where I’d be the one taking the lunch order. I would walk around asking, “Okay, is it gonna be Taco Bell today, or are we doing Wendy’s?” [Laughter] And then we’d go out and party at night.

Gayle: Do you ever miss those times?

Oprah: I certainly had a lot more fun back then, because that group was my family — we did everything together. But as we grew, things had to change. You’ve got to have separation of church and state.

Gayle: Who finally taught you that? How did you figure it out?

Oprah: My growth as a professional and as a human being has been propelled by the help of other people. Maya Angelou. And Quincy Jones, from the time I did The Color Purple. And Sidney Poitier. And Bill Cosby. That was my elder council.

Remember when I first announced that I’d been sexually abused? And then I announced that I’d done drugs? Well, I picked up the phone one day, and there was Bill Cosby on the line, and he goes, “Sis, do you have any children in an orphanage?” I said, “What?” He goes, “Do you have any children in an orphanage somewhere?” I said, “No.” He goes, “Cuz if you do, tell me now, so you don’t have to go and tell everybody about it.” [Laughter]

Gayle: But do you regret having told those things?

Oprah: No, I don’t regret having told anything. Can you imagine trying to hold a secret in today’s world? I mean, you’d live in the shadow of that all the time — who’s gonna discover it, and who’s gonna sell you out. So I don’t regret having talked about my life. The show has been my therapy, to answer the question you were getting ready to ask. I’ve never had a day’s therapy, but I’ve had many days of listening to really excellent therapists, starting with Dr. Phil, who is beyond excellent at what he does.

Gayle: You did a lot of great shows with Phil. A lot of great shows, period. Could you pick one favorite from all of them?

Oprah: Well, certainly going to Auschwitz with Elie Wiesel is at the very top of the list. And Monica Jorge, the mother who went into the hospital to have a baby and contracts some sort of flesh-eating bacteria while she’s there. They have to amputate her arms and legs, and she says, “I gotta get up, because I gotta get home and take care of my daughter and this little baby.” We just recently helped her with a house. And Jacqui Saburido, the woman whose face was burned when the drunk driver hit her — that’s another one I’ll never forget.

But I do have an all-time favorite. I can’t tell you who it is, because it’s going to be one of the last shows, and it won’t have aired by the time this issue comes out. But it’s an all-time, all-time, all-time favorite. It’s the one woman who ultimately defines everything I’ve tried to say in all my years of doing the show. When I saw her again, I just broke down and boohooed.

Gayle: Without giving the story away, why does that particular episode symbolize what the show means to you?

Oprah: It speaks to the essence of what the show has tried to say all these years: that you are not the product of your circumstances. You are a composite of all the things you believe, and all the places you believe you can go. Your past does not define you. You can step out of your history and create a new day for yourself. Even if the entire culture is saying, “You can’t.” Even if every single possible bad thing that can happen to you does. You can keep going forward.

Gayle: What kind of shows have made you the happiest?

Oprah: The best shows are when there’s an aha moment for the audience and for me. One of the most searing moments was the show with Dr. Phil and Jo Ann Compton, a mother whose daughter had been murdered. Jo Ann couldn’t get over losing her. She still had all of her dresses and everything. Nothing in her daughter’s room had been touched. And later, she admitted that she was planning to go home and commit suicide after she finished our show. But then there was this incredible moment where Phil said, “Why have you spent the past decade mourning the day of your daughter’s death, instead of celebrating the 18 years of her life?” And Jo Ann just froze. Her eyes got really wide and she turned and looked at Phil and said, “I never thought of it that way before.” I live for that kind of moment. That is the moment that I’m going for every single day — when suddenly you’re able to see things in a new way.

Gayle: You know, I talk to people on your staff all the time and everybody’s already starting to get nostalgic. We go, “God, that was the last ‘Favorite Things’ show.” Or “That was the last ‘Harpo Hookups’ show.” The other day somebody told me that she recently went to fill out an employment application and broke down in tears, because she doesn’t have much longer to say, “I’m at Harpo.” I look at everyone around you who’s feeling very bittersweet, and very reluctant, and a lot of trepidation. And here you are, practically doing the hula.

Oprah: Well, I say no bitter, all sweet. No bitterness, because we’ve done it as well as anybody could. And you have to know when it’s time to let it go.

Gayle: What about being seen and heard on a daily basis? You won’t miss that?

Oprah: You mean the fame thing? I always think I manage the fame thing very well. But Rosie O’Donnell was on the show, and she said to me, “Well, that’s because you’re still in it. Wait till you’re out of the spotlight.” And I was like, “Oh, no, no, no. This fame thing doesn’t affect me one bit. I could lose it all tomorrow and be just fine.” And of course — because this is how God always works in my life — that very same day I had to go to the gynecologist. The one thing in the world you can’t get somebody else to do for you.

Gayle: You have to bring your own vagina to the gynecologist, yes.

Oprah: Yep, it’s strictly BYOV. [Laughter] Although in this case I was there to get my annual mammogram. Now, normally I’m taken up the back stairs and ushered right into the office. Tom, my security guard, always takes me. But this year, it’s Mark. And I say, “Mark, I think we’re in the wrong place.” And he says, “No, no, ma’am, they said we’re supposed to be here.”

Anyway, we go in the front entrance. And I end up at the sign-in desk. I’m like — “Uh, I don’t think I’m supposed to sign in.” And the woman doesn’t even look up. She goes, “The policy is, you sign in.” So I fill out my little form and sign in. Then she takes the clipboard and says, “Have a seat over there.” I say, “Well, isn’t there someone here by the name of “—” Have a seat over there.” So I’m sitting in the waiting room. And it’s 1:10. It’s 1:20. And then that Rosie thing comes into my head. And I start thinking, “Okay, this is a test to see how long you can be patient.” So I go, “Okay, I’m gonna give it ten more minutes.”

Gayle: And then I’m gonna be famous again! And then my breasts are gonna be pulling a major star trip. [Laughter]

Oprah: The funny part is, I call my assistant, and I’m whispering to her, “Libby, I’m at the doctor’s office and I don’t know what’s going on.” And she says, dead serious, “Well, you’re going to get a mammogram. You’re going to take your top off. And then they’re gonna put your breast in the machine.” And then she goes, “But don’t worry. I just did this a couple of months ago. It’s gonna press your breast down. Then you’ve got to lean in, and you have to hold your arm up.” And I go, “Libby! I know what a mammogram is!”

So, that was my great humbling lesson. But my favorite part is Libby. “You’re going to take your top off. And then they’re gonna put your breast in the machine.” [Laughter]

Gayle: So let the record show that you’ll miss the perks of a daily TV show when it comes to your annual mammogram. Is there anything you’ll miss from the office? Remember Mary Tyler Moore, when she left her studio apartment for the one bedroom? She grabbed that big gold M that was hanging on her wall and walked out the door. Is there an object you’ll want to hang on to?

Oprah: The one thing I’ll take is the statue of Sojourner Truth that Jamie Foxx gave me for my birthday last year. It was a study used for the statue that Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama unveiled in the Emancipation Hall of the Capitol. I have it sitting on the table behind the sofa, in front of my desk, so I look directly at Sojourner Truth. Even in my youth, she was the historical figure I most identified with. Because even though she was born a slave, she was able to speak. She could communicate with people from all different backgrounds. She could speak to the most disenfranchised groups, and she could also speak to Congress. She was invited to the White House by Lincoln. Jamie didn’t know that I’d been reciting her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech my whole life, or that when I die, I want to go out like a comet in the sky, which is something she said about her own life. But he gave me that statue, and it will come with me when I go.

Gayle: The thing is, Oprah, I understand that it’s time for the show to end. I know it’s the right decision, but it really is the end of an era.

Oprah: Well, it’s a great compliment to have people feel this way. But I’ve always known I didn’t want anybody to have to drag me off the stage. You have to run your own race. Run it like a marathon. And just steadily build energy for yourself so that when you’re on the last lap, you’re stronger than ever. And that is really what we’ve done. I think this season has been the best of our entire journey.

Gayle: That’s true. There have been a lot of people coming back on the show for one final appearance. I keep thinking about Diana Ross singing “It’s Hard for Me to Say.” I felt so emotional watching that. Because I remember watching Diana Ross as a girl, and I know you watched her, too.

Oprah: Not just watched her. Idolized her. That was one of the most moving moments of my life, Diana Ross singing to me on the show — I didn’t know it was coming. All of a sudden, she just goes, “May I say something?” She was like, “Where’s my microphone?” And I thought, “Oh, Lord,” because I don’t like surprises. But when she started singing, it was a surreal moment for me. It took me right back to the first time I saw her on The Ed Sullivan Show. I could feel the chenille green spread that covered the sofa upstairs in the flat that my mother rented. It was like I was right back there watching on the black-and-white Zenith, astonished that there could be this beautiful black woman on TV. Imagine being 10 years old, and it’s the first time you’ve ever seen a projected image of somebody who looks like you, and it isn’t something somebody else is making fun of. It isn’t Buckwheat from The Little Rascals. It isn’t demeaning in any way.

Gayle: I know! She was so sophisticated.

Oprah: The Supremes were just — good Lord. So, the fact that this could happen in my lifetime — Diana Ross singing on my show! That that could happen is just a miracle. I kept thinking, “Okay, maybe I am gonna marry Paul McCartney.” [Laughter] That’s the only other dream I had.

Gayle: Well, that brings us to your first show, in 1986: “How to Marry the Man/Woman of Your Choice.” Clearly you didn’t listen very well, because you’re not Mrs. Paul McCartney. But what do you remember about that first show?

Oprah: I was nervous. I got hives in my armpits.

Gayle: I don’t recall you being nervous. That’s so interesting. Was it because you were live?

Oprah: I was live. But it was like butterfly nervous. I would have to say — and I know it will sound arrogant, but it’s the truth — that I felt pretty confident the show was going to be successful nationally. I’d already spent two years in Chicago, honing it. And I understood the commonality of the human experience. I mean, I just knew that people in Chicago were no different from people in Iowa or Detroit or Phoenix, Rhode Island, Maine, Connecticut, Tennessee. I didn’t have any fear at all about that.

Gayle: But you didn’t think it would be this successful, did you?

Oprah: No, I didn’t. I wasn’t even thinking in terms of money or anything. I was very naive about the reach and the influence and the impact. What I knew is that I would be able to connect to people. The reason we were so successful in those early years was that everybody on staff was just programming from our own lives. We’d go to the beauty shop, we’d hear an idea. There was a phase where everybody was dating and looking for a guy, and so all the shows were about that. And then we moved on to the stuff that happens once you settle down, and then the shows were about raising kids. There wasn’t a focus group. There wasn’t a PR person.

Gayle: Right. No strategy.

Oprah: The PR person was my assistant, Alice McGee. And Alice went on to become one of the senior producers — she’s the one who started the Book Club. But she was hired as an intern. And when I began getting all that mail, I said, “Listen, Alice, I need somebody to help me with this.”

Gayle: Because, Oprah, you were opening the mail.

Oprah: And answering it.

Gayle: Between Taco Bell runs.

Oprah: Between Taco Bell runs! So when I started getting hundreds of letters a week, I was like, “I need somebody to help me.” I remember when offers came in to do interviews with Good Housekeeping, Redbook, and Ladies’ Home Journal all in one day. And Alice says, “Well, I don’t know. Which one should we do?” I said, “I don’t know.” So she goes, “I’m gonna call my mom. Because she gets all those magazines.”

Gayle: And Alice’s mom said go with Good Housekeeping because you get…

Oprah: …the Good Housekeeping seal of approval! I mean, there was no research, no sense of the distribution, or popularity, or what. That’s how we decided everything.

Gayle: Oprah, how did you decide to shift the whole focus of the show, when it became Change-Your-Life TV…

Oprah: Talk about big mistakes! Calling it Change-Your-Life TV was a huge one. The reason I called it that is that every time I met somebody, they’d say, “Oh, I watched such-and-such show, and it changed my life.” Or “I really loved this, it changed my life.” I remember being at the grocery store one time, and this woman was following me. You know that thing where people are looking at you, and you go, “Hi, how you doing?” And then you go around the corner, and they’re still there.

Gayle: “Hi, how you doing again?”

Oprah: “Good to see you, how you doing again?” And then you realize, “Okay, they’re gonna track me all the way to the counter.” But this one woman just stopped and said, “Can I tell you something?” And I said, “Sure.” And she goes, “I used to beat my kids. And I watched you say you’re not supposed to beat your kids. That didn’t make no sense to me, because I was beat. My mom was beat. But I kept watching you. And it wasn’t the first time you said it.” She goes, “It’s because you were consistent. You were consistent. So I said, ‘I’m gonna try it. I’m gonna just try it for a week, not to beat my kids.'” And she said, “I tried it for a week. Then, ‘I’m gonna try it another week.'” She said, “And now, I can’t remember how long it’s been.” She goes, “I don’t beat my kids anymore — and I got different kids.”

Gayle: Isn’t that remarkable?

Oprah: She said, “You changed my life. And you really changed my kids’ lives.” This was in a grocery store. And this kind of thing was happening all the time. I’d meet somebody, and they’d say, “I went back to school because of you.” “I got out of an abusive marriage because of you.”

Gayle: Or “I listened to what those child molesters had to say on your show, and I realized I didn’t do anything wrong. It wasn’t my fault.”

Oprah: Yeah. Someone just sent me an e-mail the other day saying it’s been a year now since she saw that show, and it completely turned her life around. Even at her stage, and with her intelligence, it wasn’t until she saw that show that she finally got that it wasn’t her fault. Which was the point. So, that is why I started calling it Change-Your-Life TV. But I got hammered by the press about it. And I couldn’t understand why. Then one day Marianne Williamson helped me to see it. She said, “It’s because people perceive you as being a zealot. You’ve got to let people come to it in their own way, on their own terms. You want everyone to want it too much.” So I pulled back. And that was a great lesson to me. Do not tell people you’re gonna change their life. It can’t be your mission, because it puts you in a position of authority over people. You want to be able to offer that, but it’s up to them if they choose to receive it.

Gayle: You made a very conscious decision to try to take the high road when a lot of television wasn’t going that way.

Oprah: The general managers at the television stations wanted me to do more controversial things. But I finally said, “No, I’ll get out of the business before I let that happen.” If you look back, there was a period when we had a whole bunch of trashy things on. And when I look at it now, I can’t believe I did that, all in the name of communication.

Gayle: I know. It is cringe-y when I see it now, because it’s so foreign to what you do. And who you are.

Oprah: Well, my intention is always to do good. That’s how I’ve evolved personally, and also how I think the show has evolved. And those intentions have come back to me multimillionfold. I genuinely feel appreciated and loved by this audience that has grown up with me. Which, for me, is a huge, huge, huge accomplishment. Because I grew up feeling the opposite of that. Feeling a void, as a little girl, feeling that really nobody loved me. So to be surrounded by this, that is what I’m going to feel. And when you see the tears on the last show, that’s what those tears will be about. Those tears will not be about sadness. They will be about feeling the love of all — I’m gonna cry right now — of all those people.

Gayle: I feel that, too.

Oprah: That’s what the tears will be for. They’ll be for all the people we have reached, and the lives that we’ve touched, and the people who responded in kind and in kindness.


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