CHICAGO – The stars came out to honor Oprah Winfrey in a pair of spectacular farewell shows taped in front of 13,000 ecstatic fans Tuesday as the talk show queen wraps up her 25th and final season.
Tom Hanks served as host and cheerleader for the evening, telling Winfrey “tonight you are surrounded by nothing but love” as he thanked “a friend who had a classroom of millions” for everything she’s done for her viewers.
Much was said about Winfrey’s charity work, but even more was said about how she inspired her fans to lead better lives and help others.
“It’s no secret that millions of people are inspired by Oprah,” a gushing Madonna told the crowd.
“She’s a self-made woman who’s been at the top of her game for over 25 years and she is still kicking ass and encouraging people to dream big, to work hard, to read a book, to ask questions, to get an education no matter who you are or where you come from.”
The two shows — which will air Monday and Tuesday ahead of the final episode Wednesday — were filled with surprises for Winfrey, who was brought to tears again and again.
Winfrey could do little more than shout “MJ is in the house!” when Chicago Bulls basketball legend Michael Jordan returned to Chicago’s United Center arena to join her on stage.
She was also overwhelmed when Jaime Foxx serenaded her with “Isn’t she lovely,” and Stevie Wonder rose up from under the stage at the keys of a grand piano with a new song he’d written for her.
And she sat stunned as esteemed poet and personal mentor Maya Angelou told the story of Winfrey’s life while Alicia Keys accompanied her on the piano.
“I’m just trying to stay inside my body girls,” Oprah told her friends Gayle King and Maria Shriver as the tributes-filled show approached its emotional conclusion.
Dakota Fanning led a group of young “ultimate viewers” — including one who thanked Winfrey for helping to “lift the shame of being abused and taught me it wasn’t my fault.”
“We call ourselves Oprah show babies. Your voice has been the soundtrack of our lives,” Fanning said.
“We’ve learned from the Oprah show that we are enough. That we matter, that our lives are of value.”
Beyonce stunned the crowd with a rousing performance of her female empowerment anthem “Run the World (Girls).”
“Oprah, because of you women everywhere have graduated to a new level of understanding of what we are, of who we are, and most importantly who we can be,” Beyonce said before launching into the set.
Jerry Seinfeld got the audience laughing by thanking Oprah for teaching men how to be better husbands and how to survive disagreements by learning to talk as if they’re on Oprah: “Just listen, nod and answer the question.”
Winfrey’s devoted fans may be losing a beloved afternoon companion, but they certainly won’t have to say goodbye.
The cultural kingmaker — whose comfy couches have launched scores of careers from Dr. Phil to the inventors of her ‘favorite things’ — expanded her media empire January 1 with the high-stakes launch of her OWN cable network.
The network — a partnership between Winfrey’s Harpo Productions and Discovery Networks — will offer 600 hours of original fare in its first year along with movies, re-runs of the Dr. Phil show and several shows previously aired on Discovery Health.
“Oprah, as we get closer to saying goodbye to the Oprah Winfrey show as we know it, we will always be there for you as your next chapter begins,” Tom Cruise vowed.