Talk show host Oprah Winfrey taped her farewell show yesterday at the United Center in Chicago. In front of 13,000 spectators (13,000!), a host of celebrities made surprise guest appearances, including Michael Jordan, Tom Cruise, Maya Angelou, Will Smith, and Madonna. (Also present was former California first lady and Oprah pal Maria Shriver, who took the opportunity to get in a jibe at her estranged husband Arnold Schwarzenegger.) For 25 years, Winfrey has been the most popular talk show host in the United States, and one of the most powerful women in the country.
At a Christmas party in 2004, a cousin asked me "Do you like Medea?" For a minute I was a confused, since it didn’t seem to be the occasion for sharing our impressions of Greek mythology. But it turned out she was talking about Madea, the massive, loudmouthed, pistol-packing black grandmother who Tyler Perry performs as in drag in a series of "chitlin' circuit" touring shows. Perry sells DVDs of the shows on line, and ten minutes after my cousin put one on I was hooked. I’m not alone. Madea was the biggest new phenom in black America until Obamamania.
From Oprah, going just a little overboard: I speak for myself and every woman I know when I say that you all have made us so proud by the way you have handled this entire ordeal. You've handled it with such grace. And I want to borrow a line from Maya Angelou, who is a personal mentor of mine, and I know you also feel the same way about her. And she has said this many times, and I say this to you. On behalf of myself and every woman that I know, you make me proud to spell my name W-O-M-A-N. You've really handled this beautifully. --Isaac Chotiner
Now celebrating her twentieth year as the host of the world's most influential talk show, Oprah Winfrey is to television what Bach is to music, Giotto to painting, Joyce to literature. Time magazine hit the nail on the head when it recently voted her one of the world's handful of "leaders and revolutionaries." (Condoleezza Rice wrote Oprah's citation: "She has struggled with many of the challenges that we all face, and she has transformed her life. Her message is empowering: I did it, and so can you.") Like all seminal creative figures, her essential gift lies in her synthesizing power.