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Oprah's 10 most memorable moments
by stevenew,posted May 26 2011 6:13PM
From her diets to Tom Cruise's antics, the queen of daytime TV has kept viewers talking
Oprah Winfrey is a kind of teacher. Since 1986, via her classroom called "The Oprah Winfrey Show," she's taught us it's OK to cry, OK to share our problems, OK to give away cars to an entire audience and OK to love books. In return, she has earned the uniquely American honor of being known by her first name only, and according to Forbes magazine, became the first female black billionaire. With the launch of her cable channel OWN in January, Oprah has already metaphorically left the stage, but she'll be doing so for real on May 25. So here, we take a look back at some of the biggest moments from the show that made this woman and her big heart a giant star.
Oprah and her little red wagon (1988) Oprah's ongoing battle with the bulge has kept her human and sympathetic in many viewers' hearts. She's living proof that all the money in the world can't buy you a size 6 body if your body ain't having it. But in 1988 she knocked everyone's socks off by wheeling out 67 pounds of fat in a little red wagon, the amount of weight she'd lost by going on Optifast and essentially eating nothing for four months. (Oh, and her bod was pretty rockin', too.) Sadly, she ruined her metabolism with the diet and has been going up and down ever since.
Interview with a mass murderer (1989) Oprah and crazed killers are hardly unfamiliar company, though she's more likely to bring in victims or relatives of the dead to speak about their experiences. (Examples: Jim Jones Jr. and John Wayne Gacy's sister). Maybe she learned her lesson from this never-aired segment: While interviewing a man who had killed eight people and some of his victims' families, she called a halt to the proceeding, deciding this was not the direction she wanted to go. Reclusive and already a bit odd in 1993 (though not yet an accused child molester), Michael Jackson rarely gave interviews. But when he decided to sit down for a free-for-all chat, he picked Oprah to do the questioning. She visited Neverland Ranch and went over just about every rumor that had been thrown at him, including his gradually whitening skin and whether he owned the bones of John Merrick (aka the "Elephant Man"). The 90-minute show was Oprah's most-watched, with 100 million people tuning in.
Mad cows and the doctor (1996) Oprah didn't want to know where the beef was in this segment — she wanted to know what was in the beef. After learning about mad cow disease from expert Howard Lyman, she stated she'd never eat another burger. Texas cattlemen saw their industry torpedoed by that opinion and sued — and lost. But another beefy result emerged from the trial: Oprah hired Phil McGraw's company, Courtroom Sciences, to assist in jury analysis. She liked the owner so much she started having him on her show regularly. In 2002, Dr. Phil got his own series. So far, it's been working pretty well for him
Reading is fundamental (1996) Book lovers can't understand a world where someone has no interest in reading, but Oprah knew there were potential readers out there who just needed to be reached. In 1996, she launched her book club to spotlight one book each month — the first was "The Deep End of the Ocean" — and in the process created superstar best-sellers of her choices, and almost her own genre. Despite the massive publicity and sales that would ensue from a mention on her show, not every author was happy to be chosen. Jonathan Franzen was embarrassed to have his "The Corrections" on her list. But whatever you may think of her choices, Oprah gets millions to read.
Philosopher, poet, boy of peace (2001) Though only 11 when he came on her show, Mattie Stepanek was a marvel of the human spirit beyond anything Hollywood has ever tried to capture on film. Confined to a wheelchair due to his diagnosis of a rare form of muscular dystrophy, Stepanek had three wishes: To have his poetry published, to meet his hero Jimmy Carter to talk about world peace, and to meet Oprah. All came true. Stepanek's numerous "Heartsongs" books hit the top of The New York Times' best-seller lists, and he met Carter and Oprah — both of whom who attended his funeral in 2004.
Heads blow up! Even people who didn't watch Oprah wanted the golden ticket to her annual smorgasbord giveaway of stuff — which is why these shows were never announced in advance. Starting in 2002, Oprah began giving away all sorts of gifts to her audience en masse, everything from food items to beauty products to top-of-the-line high tech gizmos. The only thing an audience could expect was the unexpected: One year she gave away prizes to an audience of teachers, and one year to volunteers of the Hurricane Katrina cleanup. She skipped 2009 ("For the last couple of years, it just wasn't feeling right," an executive producer had said), and then went overboard in 2010 with two days of "ultimate favorite things." Clearly, there's always a way to top yourself — even if you're Oprah.
Everyone get’s a car! And then there was the car giveaway. The episode started interestingly, with a highly promoted Pontiac car. Then Oprah brought 11 audience members to the stage and told them they'd each be getting one of the vehicles. Mayhem ensued. Tears were shed. Then she let the cat out of the bag: Under everyone's seat was a gift box, and inside one of those boxes would be a key to a 12th car. Nope! Each box had a key, and everyone in the audience got a brand-new car. Pandemonium ensued — plus the memorable sound of Oprah also losing it, shouting, "Everybody gets a car!" over and over. Of course, the episode was probably much more fun for those in the audience than the folks eating lunch on their La-Z-Boy recliner.
Cruise takes the couch (2005) For a long while, Tom Cruise's sexuality had been under question in the press. When he met Katie Holmes, everyone shrugged. Well, Cruise was not going to have any of that. When he went on Oprah for a chat, her mere query about his new squeeze drove him over the edge. He began gesticulating and kneeling, then got up and jumped up and down on the couch in what felt oddly like a planned display of overenthusiastic joy. Cruise never got an award for it, but in many ways it was Cruise's most memorable performance.
James fray (2006) Having placed James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces" "memoir" on her book-club list, Oprah was completely behind Frey when she brought him on her show in October 2005 in a segment called "The Man Who Kept Oprah Awake at Night." The book was propelled into bestseller nirvana — until The Smoking Gun revealed that Frey must have made up multiple segments of the book. Frey confessed, and then even more strangely went back on Oprah's show in January 2006, where she berated him for lying to the public. She apologized later — not that she needed to — and in a final coup de grace, Frey has been announced as one of her final guests, making another appearance before the May 25 finale of her show.
Written by Randee Dawn is a freelance writer based in New York, and was born with a remote control in her hand. She is the co-author of "The Law & Order: SVU Unofficial Companion
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