What I Know About Oprah

George Burns/Harpo Productions

As Winfrey ends her on-camera TV run, friends and colleagues reveal their private and surprising memories.

Anne Sweeney
Co-chair, Disney Media Networks and president, Disney/ABC Television Group

"Oprah's true importance is summed up in a quote I once read from Maya Angelou. It goes, 'At the end of the day, people won't remember what you say or did, they will remember how you make them feel.' The people who mean the most to us in our lives are the people who show up and make us feel, the ones who are there for you in good times and bad. That's what Oprah does: She shows up -- for her friends, for her fans, for everyone."

Rosie O'Donnell
Talk show host

"She can down a shot of Patron; I was surprised by that. We were at the upfronts for OWN and everyone was there and she said, 'This is a tradition; we did it last year, and it was good luck, so let's do it again.' Everybody took a shot of Patron and boom! Right down. I never thought I'd be doing shots with Oprah Winfrey."

Whoopi Goldberg
Friend

"Oprah has a unique ability to shine lights on things that we either sidestep, look away from or don't acknowledge at all."

Kimberly Elise
Actress, co-star, Beloved

"I feel really lucky and blessed to be living in this world with her at this time and not reading about her in a history book."

Dr. Mehmet Oz
Host, The Dr. Oz Show, produced by Harpo Productions

"On one of my earliest appearances on Oprah, I was talking about flatus, which we all pass about once an hour. I announced that I passed gas while on set. I challenged the audience by saying most of them probably had as well. There was a moment when I had to decide whether to acknowledge that Oprah had probably passed gas. It would embarrass her, but it was a true statement. I looked at her and said calmly -- because I figured I could always go back to heart surgery if this didn't go over well -- "Oprah has passed gas almost for sure." There was some nervous laughter in the audience, then Oprah looked at me and winked. I knew then that we were going to have a long, friendly relationship because she was willing to be as honest about anything in her life with her audience as she was with me, so people could learn from and through her."

Gayle King
Best friend

"She's hilarious. She could be a stand-up comedian. She's a great mimic of people's voices, and she doesn't take herself too seriously. She doesn't mind showing you that 'I'm human and I'm just like you.' "

Debra Lee
President and CEO, BET Networks

"The most incredible moment of the night at the Legends Ball in 2006 was when Oprah introduced Barack Obama, who at the time was just 'the senator from Illinois,' as 'the Chosen One.' She said, 'He will be the next president of the United States.' He was the only man she introduced that night. It just sent chills through your body."

Chaz Bono
Becoming Chaz

"The great thing about her show is she has always made it about introducing people to new things, new ideas. To me, that's her legacy."

Peter Ligouri
Interim CEo of OWN and COO of Discovery Communications

"The most important thing I can say is she's the real deal. Her message isn't a marketing message. I had a personal moment with her where I just came off a phone call with my 19-year-old son, who was going through a health issue at school. I was pretty upset by the news, and I hung up and went into Oprah's office. Oprah saw that I was shaken, and she put a stop to the meeting and wanted to know what was up and said, 'You know what you have to do, right?' And I said yes. She said, 'Go do it.' Which meant I had to take a red-eye east to see my son. She just put business to the side. It wasn't an insignificant meeting, I might add. I got on a plane, did what I had to do and picked up the meeting the next afternoon. She's someone who does practice what she preaches, and I think that's a real rarity." [Ligouri's son has recovered.]

Quincy Jones
Producer, The Color Purple

"I was in Chicago. At the time I was casting The Color Purple. I couldn't sleep one night, so I kept taking baths and showers. I turned on the TV, and a show called Chicago AM came on. I saw this lady, and I said: 'If she can act, this is our Sophia. No question about it.' I just went on intuition. It took me about two, three days to find out who she was. I finally got her name. And lo and behold, her name backward spells Harpo, who was the husband in the Pulitzer Prize-winning book. I knew God was on my side."

James Frey
Author, A Million Little Pieces

"Seeing her again this week was kind of awesome. We'd had two phone calls since the last time I'd been on [to apologize in 2006 for lying in his book]. She actually called to apologize to me. I appreciated the apology. I thought it was cool. I'm generally not a big believer in cathartic experiences, but I think going to see her, doing the interview with her was cathartic. I felt happy that we both did it. We both owned up to mistakes we made, and in a way, it was a lesson in what she always talks about, which is to grow, change for the better, learn from your mistakes and don't make
them again."

Ellen Rakieten
Former executive producer, The Oprah Winfrey Show

"She loves a good party. She's very celebratory. If you did a good show, there'd be a champagne toast afterwards. But she is not somebody who likes to be surprised. She paid for my wedding as a surprise. She likes to be the surpriser."

Jamie Foxx
Oscar-winning actor, Ray

"I didn't think much of the Oscar talk for Ray, and I was being frivolous about it. Oprah called me and said, 'I want you to understand how important this is.' She took me to Quincy Jones' house, and there were all these actors from back in the day. The message was clear: Please don't blow it. She took me to see Sidney Poitier. They all showed me that I had a great responsibility. And I straightened my act a little bit because of it."

Dr. Phil McGraw
Host, Dr. Phil

"The first time I ever met her -- and I'm embarrassed to say this -- I had never seen an Oprah show. You can't be on the planet and not know who she is. We met in her conference room at Harpo Studios, and her assistants came in and said she'd have 10 minutes and I'd have to get right to the point. Four hours later, we concluded the meeting, and I had become a fan before I had ever seen her on the show."

Amy Gross
Former editor-in-chief, O Magazine

"I met Oprah when she was interviewing me for the editor-in-chief job at O. Being listened to the way she listens is amazing. You're in a space together, and her bullshit detector is on: You don't want to set off the alarm. You're not intimidated -- you're just really careful to walk the high wire of truth."

Jacquelyn Mitchard
Author, The Deep End of the Ocean, the first title in Oprah's Book Club

"I erased Oprah Winfrey's message three times. In 1996, I received her message about how much she loved The Deep End of the Ocean and how it had helped her to understand things about grief she'd never understood. The next day, there it was again: 'This is Oprah Winfrey, and I just love your book. I so want to talk to you ...' and I erased it. I thought it was my friend Mickey goofing around -- even when a college intern working with me said, 'Gosh, Jaq, that really sounds like Oprah Winfrey.' The last time she called, she was mad. She said, 'This really is Oprah Winfrey, and I don't know if you even live here, but if you do, could you please do me the courtesy of returning my phone call at least?' I did. I couldn't stop laughing. She started laughing, too."

Nate Berkus
Interior designer

“She’s simply one of the best teachers in the world. A great teacher doesn’t just sit and go through a laundry list of stuff that they want you learn, a great teacher opens up the way you think so that you can come up with the questions on your own.”
 
Kathy Griffin
Comedienne, star, My Life on the D List

“Oprah is, at once, wonderful and brilliant and talented and ridiculous. That's what makes her a great icon and a great subject for any comedian. It's also what makes me a loyal viewer — but I also love to make fun of her. She says many ridiculous things that normal people don't say. For instance, when she started doing shows about cluttering, she started taking women one-on-one to meet with that guy Peter, the organizer guy who has a show on OWN, and she was talking about cleanliness and saying, "I don't know about y'all, but I don't like to clean my sheets every day, I like to clean them every other day so they're sort of soft." And there was a great moment where the expert in the front row paused for a minute and looked at her and said something to the effect of, "Yes, well, I'm not sure everyone is able to wash all of their sheets every 48 hours, but that's a good point." I love the Oprah moments where she will say something -- many times she's self-aware and many times she's not -- about her insane lifestyle. She’s truly one of a kind.”
 
Erik Logan
President, Harpo Studios

“I met Oprah when I had an opportunity to pitch her some changes on her radio show at XM Radio, where I was EVP for programming. The first time I met her I was struck by just how present she was in the conversation. A lot of people you meet in the business are distracted, preoccupied, thinking about the next move. Oprah was 100% present. She listened to what I had to say, heard what I had to say. I recognized that her attention to detail is what made her successful in business. The person you see on The Oprah Winfrey Show is the same one you see behind the scenes. There’s not a façade. Purely from a television point of view, she is the surrogate for the audience. She has the ability to channel what the viewers are feeling. She’s your advocate, she’s there for you, she’s speaking on your behalf. Without question, she’s one of the greatest communicators on the planet. She can take information that’s emotional, statistical, hard, controversial, and find a way to thread the conversation so everybody can understand.”
 
Terry Wood
former executive, Harpo Entertainment

“My daughter Livia, who is 12, heard that her show was ending. She has known Oprah her whole life. But I’ve never talked about how wealthy she is or how successful. And when she heard she was leaving her show, she said, ‘I’m really worried about her.’ I said, ‘You’re worried about Oprah? Why are you worried about Oprah?’ She said, ‘Well, what is she going to do, she won’t have a full-time job? I just hope she has saved enough money to be able to take care of herself.’ I said, ‘You know what, I think she’s been planning for this day and I think she’ll be okay.’ That’s the beauty of Oprah. You don’t think about how wealthy or how famous she is. You just thinks she’s Oprah. She transcends all that.”

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