Oprah has been on the air longer than I have been alive, but today is the very last episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show. I’m not a die-hard Oprah fan, but she’s always been around, everyday. It’s strange to think that tomorrow, she won’t be. She is larger than life and the most influential woman in America. What is everyone going to do at 4 o’clock now?
It’s difficult not to admire her. She became one of the most powerful women in the world from humble roots; born to a teenage mother, a victim of sexual abuse and pregnant at 14, hers is a rags-to-riches story that is anything but conventional. While Oprah was still in high school she landed a job at the local radio station, and was awarded a full scholarship to Tennessee State University. When her broadcasting career began to take off, she left school and started working as a local news reporter and anchor.
When she was only 22 she moved to Baltimore to join WJZ-TV News as a co-anchor and co-hosted her first talk show. Her interview style was so candid and personal that she quickly rose in the ratings and after a few years she was invited to host a declining morning program in Chicago. The program quickly became the most popular show in town and a year later it was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show. She was only 32 when the show was broadcast nationally and soon after it became the number one talk show in national syndication.
From there Oprah was a powerful one-woman media machine. She played Sofia in The Color Purple, started a book club that turned books into instant bestsellers, formed her own production company, and reinvented her show with an emphasis on self improvement, literature, spirituality and healthy living. Her show attracted the biggest celebrities and tackled issues relevant to women’s everyday lives, from brownies to weight loss to racism to stories of survival.
She is generous with her success and uses her influence to accomplish things that she believes in. Her philanthropy is legendary; she founded the Angel Network and a school for girls in Africa among countless other projects. She started a successful campaign for a national database of convicted child abusers and backed Obama’s presidential campaign. Her influence is profound. Women read, eat, exercise, and think about themselves differently because of Oprah. Things happen because of Oprah. For women, she is a role model who proves that dreams can come true, and that you can achieve anything despite your background and challenges.
In just a few hours, Ms. Winfrey will take the stage for a final time-well, for now. She does have that whole Oprah Winfrey Network now, so it’s probably just a matter of time before we see her again. This week’s shows already had Aretha Franklin, Tom Cruise, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jordan, and Madonna as guests. I can only imagine what kind of sendoff she’ll receive this afternoon.