AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
But at least the reigning talk-show queen, who pulled herself out of the Daytime Emmys running years ago because she just kept winning, went out true to form—surrounded by thousands of cheering, crying fans and oodles of celebrities.
The Oprah Winfrey Show commandeered Chicago's United Center to tape the two-part Surprise Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular, and she needed the nearly 20,000-seat arena to contain all the excitement.
Before the taping extravaganza got rolling, the Chicago Bulls' mascot, Benny the Bull, and the Blackhawks' Tommy Hawk were responsible for getting the crowd riled up, but they really didn't need any help in that department. One lucky gal even got proposed to at around 7 p.m.
"Oprah Winfrey, today you are surrounded by nothing but love," said Tom Hanks after walking the lady of the hour, who was clad in regal purple, onstage to the tune of "I Gotta Feeling." "Your studio wasn't big enough to hold it all, so here we are."
And, Hanks added, "Some might say pulling off this party has been a darn near mission impossible."
Knowing a cue when he hears one, along came Tom Cruise.
Katie Holmes joined the party a little later, along with Halle Berry and Queen Latifah, but first, Josh Groban sang "Over the Rainbow" and Patti LaBelle showed up for the final bars. Then, as if it was nothing, there was Madonna.
"Get out!" Oprah exclaimed.
"She has balls," Madonna said of her fellow trailblazer. "And a wealth of compassion. I have learned so much from her."
Next up was the black-tie-preferring Beyoncé, who performed "Run the World (Girls)" in a tuxedo-style leotard. (FYI, she had to do the number twice, because apparently there were technical difficulties the first time around. Surely the crowd just considered it a complimentary encore.)
Dakota Fanning, who first appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show eight years ago when she was 9 years old, was greeted with a big squeeze from the already choked-with-emotion host.
"I'm so happy you are all here. How did you get tickets? You must know somebody," Oprah quipped.
Cruise and Holmes returned to center stage to introduce Rascal Flatts, which closed out the first half of the taping with "I Won't Let Go."
Michael Jordan, perhaps the only other Chicago superstar of Oprah's magnitude, popped out to reminisce about arriving in the Windy City at around the same time.
"You've done wonderfully," the retired NBA champ said. "I know you've been fan of basketball. I've been a fan of yours."
A tuxedo-clad Jerry Seinfeld offered up some Oprah material, comparing the event to "a dream that a disoriented husband would tell to a Freudian shrink."
But do you know what truly proved that Oprah has the world at her feet?
The talk show host teared up again when Kristen Chenoweth took the stage with a number of students from Atlanta's Morehouse College, where Winfrey has helped finance tuition for hundreds of young men to sing "For Good" from Wicked.
Poet Maya Angelou recited a piece specially composed for her friend, accompanied by Alicia Keys on piano.
Some of the biggest "aw's" of the night, however, came when Oprah's longtime beau, Stedman Graham joined his fierce lady love onstage.
"Honey, you are so special," he told her, reducing the Oprah Winfrey into an average woman-in-love, if just for a moment. "I'm so happy for your success and so proud of you...It amazes me that I get to be around a woman who changes people's lives everyday.
"And I get to be around a woman who takes her own lunch to work every day!" he added. "She says she takes her lunch to work because she wants to save money."
Also in the first few rows for the final fling were Jay-Z, Wanda Sykes, Dr. Phil McGraw, Tyler Perry, Emmitt Smith, Lisa Ling, Tyler Florence, Carson Kressly, OWN sexpert Dr. Laura Berman, Bulls star Carlos Boozer, Charles Barkley, Dave Chappelle and former Chicago mayor Richard Daley.
Hmm, where were John Travolta, Michelle Obama and all the other muckety-mucks who have spent quality time on Oprah's couch? There's only one answer: They're pretaping messages that will be played during the real finale.
Surprise Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular airs May 23 and May 24, and the final episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show airs May 25.
(Originally published May 17, 2011, at 7:45 p.m .PT)