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Oprah’s Signature Moments
It’s hard to imagine a world without Oprah Winfrey, talk show icon and pop culture institution — but it once existed. Thankfully, on Sept. 8, 1986, The Oprah Winfrey Show aired its premiere episode, and the world we live in now was born. In the decades since Oprah began her takeover of daytime TV, her cultural influence has only grown — in large part thanks to some legendary episodes of the talk show that made her famous. In celebration of the anniversary of The Oprah Winfrey Show, here are some of the program’s biggest moments.
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The Long Goodbye
May 23 and 24, 2011
Hollywood came to Chicago's United Center for a blowout celebration that would air over two days, and was full of surprises for the woman of honor. A long list of A-listers turned out to pay homage: Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Beyoncé, Tom Hanks, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Jerry Seinfeld, Jamie Foxx, Simon Cowell, Halle Berry, Queen Latifah, Rosie O?Donnell, Diane Sawyer, Patti LaBelle, Josh Groban, Tyler Perry, Dakota Fanning, Usher, and, yes, Michael Jordan. Beyoncé performed ''Run the World (Girls)'' and Maya Angelou read a piece she'd written about Oprah's life while Alicia Keys accompanied, playing an instrumental ''Superwoman.'' Stevie Wonder sang a song he said he had originally composed for his mother but never finished. Oprah seemed particularly moved when Stedman Graham, Oprah's longtime companion, spoke sweet words of thanks to her, and Aretha Franklin gave one stellar performance of ''Amazing Grace.''
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Welcome, Mr. President
May 2, 2011
For the first time in the show's history a sitting president and first lady appeared together on The Oprah Show. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama took a jaunt to their old hometown for a landmark interview with the daytime queen.
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First “Oprah’s Favorite Things”
The show’s trademark segment “Oprah’s Favorite Things,” during which Oprah gave away items that she liked to all of the audience members, debuted in 2002 and quickly became one of the most popular events of the series.
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Whitney Houston Tells All
Sept. 14 and 15, 2009
These episodes offered the first lengthy, detailed comments by Houston about her drug use (''I was lacing marijuana...with rock cocaine''), her tumultuous marriage and divorce from Bobby Brown (''he was emotionally abusive''; ''the lowest point? he spat on me''), and the reasons she returned to recording with the album I Look To You. —Ken Tucker
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All-White Forsyth County Discusses Racism
Feb. 9, 1987
A poignant, racially charged episode took Oprah to an all-white community in Georgia, where the host confronted its racist, homophobic, N-word-dropping inhabitants.
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Oprah Meets Mattie Stepanek
Oprah was deeply moved when she met Mattie Stepanek, an 11-year-old with a rare form of muscular dystrophy who idolized President Jimmy Carter. He shared his poetry — which he called “Heartsongs” and which was later published into several bestselling collections — on the show three years before he died in 2004.
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Oprah Interviews Elizabeth Taylor
Feb. 1, 1988
Oprah experienced one of her worst interviews when a tight-lipped Elizabeth Taylor appeared on her show (Oprah has admitted, ''It's still painful to watch''). Certainly, the tragic hairstyles didn't help.
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Wheeling Out the Fat Wagon
Nov. 15, 1988
Oprah pulls out a wagon with 67 pounds of fat to represent her weight loss. In turn, she helps viewers begin their diets by drastically reducing the appeal of bacon.
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Oprah Interviews Michael Jackson
Feb. 10, 1993
The famously private King of Pop invited Oprah to Neverland Ranch for an uncharacteristically open interview, during which he spoke about his relationship with his father and revealed that he had the skin condition vitiligo. It was the most-watched interview in television history.
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Oprah's First Book Club
Sept. 17, 1996
While The Oprah Winfrey Show was on, getting picked for Oprah’s book club was a golden ticket to the top of the bestseller list. She kicked off the literary phenomenon in 1996, choosing Jacquelyn Mitchard’s The Deep End of the Ocean for her first pick.
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Oprah Champions Hot Alaskan Love
Feb. 17, 1989
If only Oprah had pitched this idea to Mike Fleiss (think Who Wants to Marry a Hot Cold Man?): A slew of Alaskan men hardly received a chilly reception from female Oprah fans, who flocked to the airport in droves to greet the host's single-and-looking guests.
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Ellen DeGeneres Comes Out
Soon after announcing in Time magazine that she was gay, Ellen Degeneres appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show to discuss her coming out. Soon after, Oprah, in turn, appeared on DeGeneres’ sitcom Ellen, playing the therapist to whom the title character came out.
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Oprah Breaks Down
May 21, 1990
Before Ellen had Iggy, Oprah had Truddi Chase. When the author of When Rabbit Howls made a guest appearance on Oprah's show to talk about her tragic childhood — Chase was continually raped by her stepfather — the host broke down in tears during her introduction and had to ask her cameraman to stop filming.
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Enter Dr. Phil
The Oprah Winfrey Show launched the television career of Phil McGraw when Oprah first invited “Dr. Phil” to be on her show in 1998. He got a weekly segment on the series and eventually moved on to host his own talk show.
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Oprah Slams Beef
When beef sales plummeted after O said that mad-cow disease ''stopped me cold from eating another burger,'' a group of Texas cattle ranchers sued the talk show titan — and lost. What, are you surprised?
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Liberace's Last TV Appearance
The flamboyant pianist, who appeared on an episode in the first season and played a medley of Christmas songs, was one of Oprah’s biggest early guests. It would be his last television interview; he died six weeks later.
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Everybody Gets a Car!
Sept. 13, 2004
Oprah jump-starts season 19 by giving a Pontiac G6 to every member of her convulsing audience, some of whom literally climb on the vehicles in ecstasy.
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Dr. Oz Talks BMs
May 3, 2005
As if Oprah's fat wagon wasn't too much information, the host welcomed Dr. Mehmet Oz on her program to discuss the appearance and sound of — prepare yourself — healthy poop (hint: the doc references an Acapulco cliff diver as an analogy).
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Oprah Discusses the AIDS Crisis
In the midst of the AIDS epidemic, Oprah went to Williamson, West Virginia, where a huge controversy erupted when Mike Sisco, an openly gay man with AIDS, went swimming in a public pool. "They kind of ran like in those science fiction movies where Godzilla walks into the street,” Sisco said of the people in the town, many of whom expressed their homophobia to Oprah on the show.
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Oprah Dances with Tina Turner
When Tina Turner was on her “Wildest Dreams” tour, Oprah took her show on the road and followed the icon on tour, then fulfilled one of her own wildest dreams by dancing onstage with Turner.
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Tom Goes Crazylove on Oprah's Couch
May 23, 2005
Tom Cruise shakes Oprah like a rattle and jumps on her couch to declare his love for Katie Holmes. Comedians and gossip bloggers worldwide extend their gratitude.
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Oprah Chooses William Faulkner
June 3, 2005
Oprah's audience got the most difficult reading assignment of their lives — this isn't Eat Pray Love, folks! — when the host chose a trio of novels by the notoriously difficult-to-read Faulkner for her book club. No wonder the book only stayed on the Publishers Weekly best-seller chart for a mere three weeks.
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Terry McMillan Confronts Her Gay Ex-Husband
Nov. 9, 2005
Talk about squirm-inducing television. The author of How Stella Got Her Groove Back used an episode of Oprah's show to spar with her ex-husband, who admitted to being gay after six years of marriage.
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Oprah Fries James Frey
Jan. 6, 2006
After sections of his memoir — an Oprah's Book Club pick — were proved to be fabricated, Oprah breaks writer James Frey into a million little pieces on live TV.
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Oprah Reunites with Her 4th Grade Teacher
Oprah started crying when she was reunited with her favorite childhood teacher, Mrs. Duncan, whom Oprah said she loved from the first day of 4th grade, and who inspired Oprah at that age to become a teacher herself. “So was I your favorite that year?” she asked her beloved teacher. “Oh, of course,” Mrs. Duncan replied warmly, “but I couldn’t let anybody know!”
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The Black Eyed Peas Flashmob
Sept. 8, 2009
Oprah is famous for surprising her audience, but this time she was the one who didn’t see something coming. The season 24 premiere began with a Black Eyed Peas concert in Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, for which the producers organized a flash mob to dance to “I Gotta Feeling.”