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Oprah Winfrey Bids Farewell to Millions of Fans

  • Chris Simkins

In this May 17, 2011 photo, Oprah Winfrey acknowledges fans during a star-studded double-taping of "Surprise Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular," in Chicago

In this May 17, 2011 photo, Oprah Winfrey acknowledges fans during a star-studded double-taping of "Surprise Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular," in Chicago

U.S. television star Oprah Winfrey, one of the nation's most powerful and wealthiest entertainers, is ending her run as a top-rated TV talk show host after 25 years on the air. The final episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show airs on May 25. Oprah's show, the first syndicated talk show by an African American, debuted in September 1986. Since then, she has built a media empire - and a brand - including her own cable television network launched earlier this year.

It was a fitting send off for Oprah Winfrey, including a standing ovation from 13,000 fans in Chicago and tributes from a chorus of celebrities as she ended 25 years as a talk show host.
Oprah transformed American television with her wildly popular daytime talk show that hit the airwaves in 1986. It became the highest rated talk show in television history with 42 million viewers weekly in more than150 countries. Last year, she said it was time to move on.

"These years with you, our viewers, have enriched my life beyond all measurements," she said.

As fans took in one of her final shows, they reflected on what made Oprah so important.

"The kindness that she gave everybody. The opportunity that she gave everybody," said one woman. "The love that she shared with all of us."

"She's always been so real," said a male fan. "She's just a real person, a genuine person."

"She's given us hope, and she's really just a positive in so many people's lives including myself," said another woman.

Oprah was able to connect with her viewers by revealing some of her own issues - an early experience with sexual abuse, poverty and, later, problems with her weight. She also took on controversial subjects like child abuse, AIDS and racism.

"Even if you didn't watch the show , you were aware of what was going on on that show," said media critic Ron Simon. "It was part of the national conversation."

Author Kitty Kelly says Oprah's rise to superstar status from humble beginnings was nothing short of incredible.

"She is the most famous woman in the world," she said. "In fact "Good Housekeeping" [magazine] came out with a poll showing that she is the most admired woman on the face of the earth."

Her early life was not a predictor. She grew up poor in racially segregated Mississippi but overcame many obstacles. She appeared in a few films, but her talk show made her a household name.

She became the first African American woman to make the Forbes Magazine list of billionaires. And she propelled the careers of writers through her book club endorsements.

Along the way, she produced "The Color Purple" on Broadway and created a media empire including her own magazine.

Oprah became known for her generosity. She's given cars and other lavish gifts to people in her audience.

And in 2007, she donated $40 million to establish a school for poor girls in South Africa. She's raised funds to establish 60 more schools in 13 countries.

And in her first foray into politics, she used her star power to endorse Barack Obama at a key moment in his bid for the presidency.

With her TV talk show over, Oprah says she is focusing on her cable network, which launched in January. She hopes it will attract the huge audiences she's attracted over the years.

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